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Online Career Training Program Coming To Pittsburgh For Out-of-School Youths

Local and national organizations are collaborating to bring an online diploma program for high school dropouts to Pittsburgh.

Seventy local youths ages 18-24 will be recruited by Garfield Jubilee Association to enroll in one of eight courses of study: childcare education, office management, security services, homeland security, transportation services, professional skills, retail customer service and food customer service.

These are the fields employing the “majority of the approximately 40 million Americans” who do not have a high school diploma, according to Howard Liebman, co-founder of Florida-based Smart Horizons Career Online Education.

Classes at Cengage Learning’s Career Online High School are formatted in an “upside-down program model," he said, in which students must complete online courses with a grade of 70 percent or higher to move on to the next lesson. Students are assigned academic coaches, and face no punishment for failing classes.

“We don’t have ‘failure’ because this population has suffered a lot of educational trauma around failure,” Liebman said. “In turn, we wanted to focus on something that was applicable, something that enabled them to show mastery.”

He said that if the pilot program of 70 students does well enough. the Career Online High School could be broadened to include more Pittsburgh youth.

“[The current number of students] is low. It’s a starting point to look at out-of-school youths and adults in the city of Pittsburgh,” Liebman said. “If and when this is successful, my hunch says it will be very successful … it will be expanded upon with greater funding.”

Alan Lesgold, dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education, said he knew one of creators of the Career Online High School, and contacted Mayor Bill Peduto's office about bringing the program to Pittsburgh.

Lesgold was critical of the American public school system, and said it was not inclusive enough for all students.  

“I’ve been in education for 45 years, in that time we have not succeeded in building schooling … that really serves all of the students,” Lesgold said. “We get excited when the dropout rate (gets) down to 20 percent instead of 30 percent, but the bottom line is that lots of people are being left out.”

He called on society to address the problem of high school dropout rates.

“If we really want to be a society where everybody has a productive role to play, we have to solve that problem,” Lesgold said. “Part of the solution is getting our schools to work better but another piece of the solution is helping all the people that already have not been served adequately.”

3Rivers Workforce Investment Board is funding the pilot initiative.