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Early School Leaver program gives students a chance for education, work

When Eric Kasanda was in his senior year at Downers Grove South High School, he felt like he wasn't in the right place.

"High school just wasn't working for me," he said. "Between teachers and lifestyle of learning and my own personal needs for learning, high school just was not working for me at all."

His grades in classes such as history and math were steadily dropping, and when he was told by a guiance counselor that he was going to be a few credits short of graduating on time, he nearly lost hope. But another counselor saw his good grades in his electronics and applied technology classes - "anything where I was working with my hands," he said - and suggested he consider the Early School Leaver program at the Technology Center of DuPage.

Funded by the Workforce Development Division of DuPage County and started in 1984, the Early School Leaver program provides free GED preparation classes and work training to those who didn't complete high school. Students can receive their high school equivalency certificate while being introduced to a trade.

That opportunity was life changing, Kasanda said, and the additional personalized programs added a little something extra.

"It meant a lot actually," he said. "It was such a small class, you had a much more one on one approach of both teaching and learning with both Ms. Scott and Ms. Backer. Between having both teachers, all students I know had a very personal connection with what they were doing."

Crystal Scott, who is one of the program teachers, said that the program has a success rate of about 75 percent for students who obtain their GED. The program offers GED classes that include 18 different occupation training options, she said.

"The Early School Leaver students work in our programs and are in our programs really in the exact same capacity [as other students]," TCD Principal Steve Carr said.

The program gives them a concentrated focus area, which is a "very positive element in a student who is continuing their education," he said.

Kasanda, who enrolled in the automotive technical program to explore a lifelong interest in cars, agreed, saying that the program also helped him get connected with opportunities in the workforce. Through the program, he was hired at an Infinity dealership in the area as a porter after graduating. He is now a parts representative at the dealership in Clarendon Hills and works alongside another fellow graduate of the Early School Leaver program.

"It made me very confident when I was looking for a job. It definitely helped boost what I had to offer as far as what employers looked at," Kasanda said. "It was something to put on my resume and it was a little different than what other people put on theirs."

The school will hold two information sessions on Aug. 21 and 28 at 1:30 p.m. at the Technology Center of DuPage at 301 S. Swift Road in Addison. Those who cannot attend either can call 630-691-7578.

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