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Giving kids their future

By Linda Harrill
For the Salisbury Post
Several weeks ago I attended a special graduation celebration for 24 young people at our Performance Learning Center (PLC) in Cabarrus County. The event was hosted by the PTSO of the school.
The small, nontraditional school has about 75 students and was created based on the National Communities In Schools PLC model. Cabarrus County Schools, Communities In Schools of North Carolina and Communities In Schools of Cabarrus County joined forces to open this school, one of five PLCs in the state. Cabarrus County Schools realized that they could not meet the needs of all the students in the school system and wanted to offer an alternative to the traditional high school for those students, who for various family, work, health or academic issues needed an environment where they could work at their own pace, make up lost time and accelerate their studies. They needed to be away from the drama of high school; most had enough in their personal lives.
Listening to the stories of these kids who had given up on school and had chosen to either drop out or had withdrawn from school gave me both a high and low. A low because for these young people, academics was not the problem; it was all the chaos in their lives that got in their way of being successful. They missed too many days and therefore were going to fail. One young race-car driver from Cabarrus County could only race on Fridays because that is when the mini-circuit races. Another young lady got sick, and her absences added up until she was told she would fail because there was no way for her to make up her work and time. One young man was homeless and giving up on himself, life and school.
But the student who stood out the most to me was the sophisticated young African-American woman who said she loved school and was a straight-A student all her life until a family tragedy side-tracked her. Knowing that as a first-time college-going student, she would have to depend on scholarships, she worked hard to maintain her grades and good attendance record. When she ran into obstacles, things fell apart and so did her GPA. As her grades fell, so did her chances for scholarships. She lost hope and decided to quit as she watched her lifelong dream of going to college fall apart. Fortunately, in her county, they had a PLC and a caring counselor who recommended that before she called it quits she go to the PLC and try it. According to this young woman, the PLC was perfect. The school allowed her to retake some courses and take additional courses to help raise her GPA. She could work at her own pace and still manage the family and health issues that demand attention. She graduated on June 11 and received a $6,000 CIS/ Wal-Mart scholarship. Instead of dropping out and maybe getting a GED down the road, she will attend Appalachian State University this fall.
In her closing remarks she said, “Thank you for giving me back my future.”
On May 20 I spoke at the PLC graduation in Cumberland County, where 44 students graduated. The auditorium was packed with parents, friends and supporters cheering on these young men and women. These students, like their counterparts in Cabarrus and the other four PLCs in the state, are bright, creative, young people who for various reasons, many of which were outside of their control, had gotten off track. Thanks to Communities In Schools and the local school systems working together, these students have had a chance to get back on track. What are PLCs? They are opportunities for youth who thought they had no chance to have a future. What is the value of this to these students, their families and our communities? Priceless!
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Linda Harrill is president and CEO of Communities In Schools of North Carolina, the state’s largest stay-in school network.

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