In light of D.C.’s unemployment rate, one of the lowest in the nation, the YouthBuild Public Charter School, located in Columbia Heights, is providing a unique opportunity for young men and women who have not completed their schooling and are in need of professional training and education.

The school educates its students by using a two-step approach. First, it prepares students to take their General Education Development tests, so that they may continue their education beyond the high school level. As part of the school’s vocational mission, it teaches students skills in construction by sending them to construction sites in the Columbia Heights, where they build low-income housing in an area of the D.C. neighborhood where close to 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the Columbia Heights Action Research Project.

The YouthBuild Public Charter School was conceived by the Latin American Youth Center, a charitable group based in Columbia Heights, according to Rebecca Paavola, the assistant principal of the school. In 2005, the YouthBuild Public Charter School opened and began to teach young adults in Columbia Heights practical and academic skills, according to its Web site.

“[The aim is to help] young people ages 16-24 who have dropped out of traditional high schools,” YouthBuild PCS states in its mission statement.

The school’s demographics reflect its unique mission; for the 2008-2009 academic year, 75 percent of the student body’s reading level was below a high school level. In addition, 36 percent of the students were parents, and 38 percent had limited or no experience with English, according to the publicly posted school records.

YouthBuild draws financial support from both the public and private sectors. According to YouthBuild’s public records, the corporation received more than 100 million dollars in federal funds to support its organization. In addition, the local YouthBuild charter school has received funds from various private groups, the largest being a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the school.

In addition to providing an education, YouthBuild provides other services for its students such as housing assistance and mentoring, according to the its Web site.

Even with such support, the school has been constrained by limited resources and has been forced to reject many applicants. The number of applicants has increased in the past two years.

“The year before last [2008-2009 school year] we had over 680 applicants and 85 spots. We didn’t have quite as many this past year, with 450, but the need is still very significant,” Paavola said.

The school offers a $200 stipend to students to help them support their families or pay for transportation.

Despite financial fears resulting from the recession, YouthBuild has continued to expand its program by building more classrooms and expanding the student capacity in the dorm. According to The Washington Post, YouthBuild is also planning to open a second campus in Northwest D.C. on the grounds of a closed elementary school, which will also provide some housing for homeless students.”

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