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Ready to serve: Western Sierra YouthBuild gives students a second chance

Ivan Natividad
Staff Writer
Western Sierra YouthBuild staff Tom Brown, Teri Patterson, Director Anita Bagwell, and Abby Cerino.
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

Western Sierra YouthBuild, a California public charter school providing academic and vocational training to young adults, will open its doors for the first time this fall to offer students, ages 18-25, a second chance at earning their high school diploma.

“There needs to be this offering for these students,” Western Sierra YouthBuild Director Anita Bagwell said. “And the fact that it’s free is pretty exciting to me. It’s not leaving them out because of financial reasons, students can come finish their high school diploma and get an education about vocational work. That, for me, is a key thing we can do for these students, it’s big.”

As a part of Nevada County’s John Muir Charter School, located on the 12000 block of McCourtney Road in Grass Valley, Western Sierra YouthBuild aims to serve students that have somehow slipped through the cracks, in a county that has an otherwise low high school drop-out rate.

“When John Muir Charter School opens programs, it has nothing to do with the effectiveness of other school programs in the county,” John Muir Charter School CEO R.J. Gonzalez-Guess said. “We’re an addition to an excellent public education system in the county.”

The adult education program will focus on providing students with academic courses accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, also known as WASC, to achieve a high school diploma, along with career and vocational training that Bagwell says will prepare them for the workforce.

“It’s kind of like adult ROP,” Bagwell said. “So we’re going to do these trainings and certifications so that when students leave, they’ll actually have some training and recognizable certifications of what they can do. It helps them get a leg up on jobs.”

Bagwell says that the school has hired a licensed contractor that will offer certification and training to students in fields like construction, salvaging deconstruction, retail, landscaping, maintenance and property management.

Bagwell’s program is based on the YouthBuild model, a more than 35-year-old organization initially based on giving young people construction skills as part of academic development, going by the motto “Building homes, building communities, building lives.”

“The YouthBuild model has their time as 50 percent academic training, 40 percent in vocational training, and 10 percent in leadership development,” Bagwell said. “It’s about empowering young people to make an impact in their community with change that they want to see happen.”

An educator for more than 30 years, Bagwell has had experience working with low-income communities and young adults in various educational settings, from Chico all the way down to Southern California.

Twenty years ago, though, Bagwell and her husband moved to Nevada County and she has worked for the Nevada Joint Union High School District in different roles as a program director and principal for Earl Jamieson High School, the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, North Point Academy and the Nevada Union Adult Education program.

After doing an initial survey of the county, Bagwell said that there are close to 300 young adults ages 18-25 that are still in need of finishing their diploma. She hopes these students enroll in Western Sierra YouthBuild.

“These are all students that for one reason or another didn’t finish their high school education,” Bagwell said. “It could be lots of different reasons, sometimes it’s health, some of it is issues at home, some of it’s economic. There’s lots and lots of reasons students need to finish their high school diploma.”

To combat these potential issues, Gonzalez-Guess says the program and the school will offer counseling and mental health services to all students, and also refer participants in the program to other community agencies if needed.

“I think a lot what society tells us is that when somebody’s a high school dropout, is we kind of keep quiet about it, we don’t want to talk about it,” Gonzalez-Guess said. “But what we want to say is, let’s talk about it. We need the community to send us the young people they know are out there.”

With six full-time staff, Bagwell says the program is aiming to serve between 50 and 60 students this fall. Randee Koller relocated from Southern California to work as a teacher with Western Sierra YouthBuild. Koller, 25, says she is looking forward to getting to know the community and the needs of the students she will be teaching.

“For a lot of them their academic side may not be accessible anymore,” Koller said. “They might be too old to go to another school, so I think this is kind of a second chance, and maybe a last chance, for many of the students. So I’m excited to be a part of this process.”

Bagwell says that she has also hired a life skills teacher, and that every student who enrolls in her school will go through a one-on-one interview session where students will identify their goals and ambitions in life.

“We can help match those goals with what they need to do,” Bagwell said. “It’s helping them in their next steps for after they finish, and really helping them in that end game of, what they’re going to do down the road, whether that be college or the workforce, or both.”

For Bagwell, the program will give students more than a job.

“I believe this generation wants to serve,” Bagwell said.

“They want to have meaning in what they’re learning and they want to have an impact on their world, and we want to help them have tools to actually make change in their neighborhoods and their regions.”

Bagwell added, “That’s what we’re trying to do, not just finish the high school diploma that’s accredited, but give them skills and opportunity to change their lives and the world around them.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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