By Makenzie O'Keefe

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Jefferson County schools are working to help teenagers who are struggling in the classroom get back on track to graduate. The Career Explore Program began at Wheat Ridge High School in 2017 and has since expanded in Jeffco Public Schools.

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The goal of the program, which is now in place at five schools, is to get at-risk teenagers or students likely to drop out to re-engage in school by introducing them to potential career paths.

“I wasn’t too involved in high school,” Gavin Nelson explained, a senior at Dakota Ridge High School. “I didn’t do a lot of my assignments so I would get behind and fail classes.”

(credit: CBS)

Nelson said he expected to fail his senior year and he wasn’t sure what he would do with his future, until someone suggested he check out the Career Explore Program.

“Now, I’m going to graduate because of it,” he told CBS4. “And I’m going to have a job when I graduate, too. I never would have thought I would be here.”

Students in the program are connected with potential careers in health care, hospitality, automotive or construction. Mark Babcock is the Youth Construction Instructor at the Colorado Homebuilding Academy, where students gather once a week to learn.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s much bigger than just learning for work with tools,” Babcock said. “Through the process, just the confidence in themselves and standing taller, they leave here and they have goals, dreams, and they know where they want to go in the future.”

(credit: CBS)

Babcock and career leaders say the program has turned around the lives of many students.

“To see some students who I had in class last year and now that they are in this program, their attendance has gone up, they’re excited about school and excited about learning,” said Jane Johnson, Career Explore Coordinator at Wheat Ridge High. “I just think they’re going to have such a brighter future because of this.”

(credit: CBS)

Students not only gain training in the field they choose, but can receive industry certifications and internships. Nelson is about to start his internship with a man who owns his own cement company.

“He’s going to teach me how to do everything in it,” Gavin said. “I can hopefully move up in his company and then I want to start my own eventually.”

(credit: CBS)

Participating schools are also always looking for businesses who are willing to provide internship opportunities for these students. If you are interested, you can contact Jennifer Marquez at Jennifer.Marquez@jeffco.k12.co.us.

The Career Explore Program will also hold a fundraising gala on Thursday, May 2 to raise money for the program so they can continue to provide these career opportunities for students. If you are interested in more information or would like to help out, you can reach out to Marquez.

Makenzie O'Keefe

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