Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dropouts Acquiring Career Skills, Diplomas

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Dropouts Acquiring Career Skills, Diplomas

Article excerpt

Shakayla Peterkin was so much trouble at John F. Kennedy High she finally got expelled. "I would argue with my teachers, with students, with everybody," she said.

Diploma-less, she wandered through odd jobs -- baby-sitting and pet-sitting -- learning the value of diligence and industriousness along the way. "I watched over dogs, cats, birds and even iguanas," said Peterkin, who advertised her pet-sitting services online and pinned notices on Paterson utility poles.

Big change came when she found her way into YouthBuild, a program designed to provide high school dropouts with training in the building trades or a path to earning a diploma.

At her graduation this week, an elated Peterkin, 22, talked about the skills she learned for a career in carpentry and how the training has given her purpose and direction.

"I'm excited and nervous tonight," she said. "I know my mom is proud of me."

Clad in a maroon cap and gown adorned with a bright gold tassel and collar, Peterkin was one of 21 graduates of Passaic YouthBuild who received diplomas Wednesday in a ceremony at St. Paul's Community Development Center in Paterson.

The graduates, all young adults from Paterson and Passaic, received vocational training certificates in carpentry and construction from the National Center for Construction Education and Research, and some also earned General Educational Development diplomas and certificates in CPR and occupational health and safety training.

"They were not bad kids. I would just call them lost," said Elizabeth Almodovar, a case manager at YouthBuild. "They just needed some help to refocus and reengage to help them become successful."

Richard Williams, executive director of St. Paul's Community Development Center, said during the ceremony that "a lot of stress and heartache" led the graduates to, and through, the program.

"This has not been easy for them," Williams said. "But we are here today to celebrate them doing something different, something better. …

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