Thirty Years of Learning in Reengagement Education: Integrating Pathways and Supports

By: Ashley Koch
Director of Career Technical Education & Student Services
San Jose Conservation Corps & Charter School

The San Jose Conservation Corps + Charter School (SJCC+CS) is committed to the work of the Opportunity Youth Partnership and the emergence of a comprehensive second chance system. To further this partnership and that goal, the SJCC+CS is hard at work ensuring we deliver high quality programs, and over the past two years we have shifted to be “all-in” for pathways. We know that to make it in Silicon Valley young people need education or training beyond high school, and, as such, we are committed to ensuring that every SJCC+CS graduate has a well-thought out next step, a plan to get there, and the support to persist.

Since 1987, SJCC+CS has provided more than 20,000 of San Jose’s most disadvantaged 18-27-year-olds, with the education, job training, and life skills they need to become responsible, productive, and caring citizens. For more than three decades, SJCC+CS’ academic and vocational training programs have helped to reconnect young men and women, who are without a high school diploma and stuck in low-wage work without opportunities for advancement, to positive supports, including a community of like-minded students, and opportunities to develop a broad range of skills.

One of the most important ways the SJCC+CS supports this unique population is through our “earn and learn” model. We offer young people a free high school diploma program as well as the ability to earn an income while building job skills and a steady employment history. Many Opportunity Youth face a real choice between returning to school and working to support themselves and others. We don’t think they should have to choose, and we’ve learned that when school and work are fused together young people thrive through a renewed sense of dignity and the removal of the burden of choosing between school and work. Our program recognizes this imperative and is built upon a respect for both the realities of our students’ lives as well as their aspirations for a different future.

Earning and learning is just the start. In order to help our students write their comeback stories, we have learned that we must address the needs of students from a holistic perspective. To increase the support available for our students, SJCC+CS has intensified its use of wrap-around services, including on-site mental health and drug and alcohol counseling; participation in the Stanford Medical Van services; housing services; free and reduced price meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; transportation assistance through eco-passes; and students can access on-site childcare, provided by the YWCA, for children as young as six-weeks. Many of these services have been made available through our collaboration with Opportunity Youth Partnership. We endeavor to contribute to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts – a comprehensive second chance system.

SJCC+CS’ mission is based on the fundamental principle that our society becomes stronger when everyone is educated, cares about our natural environment, and is positively engaged in their communities. In order to participate as contributing and caring citizens, youth not only need basic academic skills but also the hard and soft job skills that will allow them to obtain a living wage job – one that can grow with them and sustain them and their families. Through secondary education, meaningful employment opportunities, skill pathways, holistic supports, and a positive community of peers, the SJCC+CS is doing our best to help young people get back on track as quickly as possible and without interruption, so they can get on with their lives and pursue their dreams as engaged and committed citizens.