Heartland and YouthBuild team up to promote lifelong learning

June 13, 2017

With the motto, Your Path to Lifelong Learning, Continuing Education at HCC is all about advancing education well beyond school.  

“Just because you’ve earned a diploma doesn’t mean you’re done learning,” explains Continuing Education Director Angie Coughlin.

About YouthBuild

That logic is being applied to YouthBuild McLean County, a charter school that works with at-risk students to provide pathways to jobs, education, entrepreneurship and other opportunities that lead to productive and contributing livelihoods. YouthBuild McLean County has served more 2,000 youths since 1994, helping guide them towards obtaining a GED, job or other productive path.

With support from AmeriCorps, students often graduate from YouthBuild with scholarships to continue their education. However, according to YouthBuild’s Director of Development Alicia Lenard, a majority of students aren’t ready to take the higher education degree route, saying, “There’s a bit of fear about college among some of our alumni, likely because it’s unfamiliar territory.”

Forming a Partnership

To help students make good use of their scholarship dollars and continue their education, Lenard reached out to Heartland’s Continuing Education department. Working together, YouthBuild and Heartland developed Bridge, a program that offers a short-term college experience to help get YouthBuild alumni acclimated to higher education.

Bridge includes a mix of online and traditional classroom curriculum for a variety of concentrations, including welding, building management and maintenance, food service sanitation, customer service for the restaurant industry, pharmacy tech and information technology. Each program takes less than a month to complete and students can choose the focus that best meets their interest. At the end of the program, participants are given credentials related to their area of focus.

YouthBuild alumna Ariel Thompson (’15) is looking forward to putting her scholarship dollars to good use in the pharmacy tech program. “I’ve always wanted a better future for me and my son,” she said. “This program is attractive in terms of salary and stability. People will always need medicine.”

Ariel Thompson

Getting a Full College Experience

To help students get accustomed to college, all classes are taken on the Heartland campus, including the online portions which are done in one of the College’s computer labs. Classes include Heartland Continuing Education instructors as well as representatives from YouthBuild. Lenard and Coughlin feel this keeps students within reach of their comfort zone.

“A lot of these students have had a negative experience with public education and it takes them a while to trust people,” explained Lenard. “This partnership allows for plenty of independence while still having structure and familiar people in place.”

Coughlin adds that Continuing Education’s intent is to make Bridge participants feel like Heartland students. “They’re getting student IDs, access to the fitness center, bus passes and other benefits Heartland students get. We want them to feel comfortable in the education environment.”

To contribute to the full college experience, Bridge programs include guest speakers as well as visits from deans and department chairs throughout the College.

Empowering Students

Lenard notes that in addition to furthering their education, Bridge can help students move up in their jobs.

“Once students earn their credentials, employers are going to see they’ve taken steps to make themselves better. Overall, it will make them more employable or increase their marketability.”

Bridge kicked off Monday, June 12 with an orientation that included more than 30 participants. Lenard and Coughlin anticipate Bridge will be a highly successful program and plan to continue it throughout the year with new groups of students.

“This program empowers students because it’s their money,” stated Lenard. “If they want to take a course, they’re going to be recruiting others to take it with them because if we don’t get a certain amount enrolled, the class won’t happen.”

It also empowers students to choose their own path of education. Bridge participant Larry Holmes (’14) is excited to learn more about welding. “I don’t know too much about it, but from what I’ve heard, it seems interesting. I like working with my hands so I think it will be a good choice for me.”

“Truly, students are choosing their destination and we’re here to help them be successful,” said Coughlin.

Larry Holmes

Written by: Becky Gropp