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Ahead of the game
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Administrators and members of the Newton County Board of Education want more students to participate in the system's Youth Apprenticeship Program.

YAP Coordinator Cynthia Marvel presented information about the program's application process, enrollment figures and successes at Tuesday night's board of education meeting.

Marvel explained the State Board of Education mandated that systems implement work-based programs in order to create a well educated and skilled workforce, thereby bolstering the global competitiveness of Georgia and the United States.

"This program is one of the most successful work-based learning programs in the state and indeed in the nation," Marvel said.

Students who successfully complete the YAP can earn high school diplomas, college credit and certification of industry-recognized skills through 144 hours of school-based learning and 2,000 hours of work-based compensated learning.

Marvel said the program is mainly funded by grants and heavier weights in state funding based on student enrollment.

"Youth apprenticeship is pretty much a self-funded program," Marvel said.

Regularly enrolled students earn the system $424.36 per segment. YAP students earn 18 percent more at $504.22 per segment.

Fifty businesses participate in the program which offers areas of study in business and information technology, family and consumer sciences, healthcare science technology, marketing, technology and trade and industry.

Ryan McDowell, 20, has narrowed his career goals by participating in the program as an employee of TriCon Tools.

A teacher at Newton High referred McDowell to Marvel after he had asked about careers in engineering.

"Mrs. Marvel knows what you're interests are and knows the business people in Covington," McDowell said, "and she matches what you're interested in to what businesses are in the program."

McDowell has worked for Dean Delamar, president of TriCon Tools, since the summer of 2004. He graduated from Newton High in 2005 and continues to work at the company, which manufactures tools and equipment for local industries.

Through working for TriCon he has discovered he enjoys the computer-aided design aspect of engineering.

"I'm big into how to make things faster and more efficient," McDowell said.

He's also learned things don't always go as planned.

"I think one of my first mistakes cost about $3,000," McDowell said, "and that was an interesting experience because you're going to make mistakes in the real world."

Delamar, a 1986 Newton High graduate, said he never really took school seriously or thought about a career until he graduated high school.

Now the owner of a successful business and member of the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce, he understands how difficult the world of work can be especially for young adults. He said he wanted to help young people find their callings early - plus they help immensely with day to day tasks.

"At first it's kind of slow because you're in a teaching mode," Delamar said, "but as you give these student's opportunities, they begin to excel."

He also employs two other youth apprentices from Newton County Schools.

McDowell is now enrolled at Georgia State College and University. He will attend Georgia Tech in January to study mechanical engineering.

He said the best part of his apprenticeship has been networking and meeting area business leaders - potential future employers.

Marvel reported 53 juniors and seniors participated in the program this year - five from Alcovy High, 15 from Newton High and 33 from Eastside High.

When board members asked why Eastside had more than double the numbers from Newton, Marvel replied that Eastside's block schedule with only four periods a day lends itself more toward apprenticeships and early release schedules.

Board member Cathy Dobbs also said she would like to see the total number in the program increase.

"Out of the 1,700 plus students who have this available to them," Dobbs said, "I would like to see more than 65 or 70 in the program."

Marvel explained the rigid application requirements deter many students from participating in the program. Students must be 16 years of age, have reliable transportation, be in good academic standing for graduation, completed two courses relating to their intended area of study, compile three teacher recommendations, have an excellent attendance and discipline record and complete a four- to seven-year plan for future study.

One of the most needed areas of study in the state, according to Marvel, is the teaching assistant program. She said state officials have recently acknowledged Georgia is not producing enough education graduates, especially in math and science, to meet the demands of growing student enrollment.

"Many of our YAP students are in postsecondary educations pursuing degrees," Marvel said, "and will hopefully return to work with Newton County schools, and we'll begin to reap the benefits of our investments."

Marvel said the best part of the program involves personal discovery.

"Oftentimes as adults we find we are not cut out to do the work we set out to study or do," Marvel said, "and this program helps students find their strengths as well as their weaknesses early."

Marvel said YAP coordinators will meet in July to discuss the future of work-based learning programs. A state initiative to be piloted by some school systems next school year called "Career Related Education," will develop all programs included in work-based learning - education skills development, short-term internships or practicum, extensions of courses through clinicals and co-op job placements relevant to classes.

The YAP program would remain the most intense method of work-based study since it culminates in postsecondary credentials and the system is accountable for the students' post-secondary work.

"It gives students a chance to put their academic experiences to work for them," Marvel said, "and we feel that is greatly important."