A law proposed by state Sen. Sam Blakeslee aims to eliminate what he calls a barrier to success for at-risk students enrolled in the Grizzly Youth Academy.
The legislation would again allow graduates of the academy to earn a GED diploma at the age of 17.
The academy is a voluntary five-month residential charter high school run by the National Guard and the county Office of Education for at-risk youths age 16 to 18 at Camp San Luis Obispo.
The age limit for the GED test was raised to 18 in 2008 by an administrative policy change, and the toll was immediately clear, said Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo.
In 2007, 115 Grizzly Youth Academy students took the GED test. That number dropped to 14 students in 2008 because of the change.
“Many of these youth come to the program severely behind in credits,” said Paul Piette, the academy’s principal. “A diploma was far out of their reach, but in this program they’ve made a commitment to furthering their education.”
Piette said assisting the students in getting their GED diploma is needed to help them get to the next phase in their lives — either into college or the work force.
“If it can’t happen while they are here — they lose that support,” Piette said.
Blakeslee’s proposal will be heard in the coming months by the state Senate education committee before being voted on.
Grizzly is one of two California National Guard Youth Challenge programs. There are 32 such programs throughout the country; students at all but the two programs in California can take the GED test before they are 18 years old.
“California stands alone in its efforts to thwart student progress,” Blakeslee said. “Many of these teens are at a moment in their lives that if they don’t get their GEDs, they may never.”
Grizzly graduate Christopher Cook, 18, said he hopes Blakeslee’s proposed legislation will pass.
“Before, I didn’t do well in high school, and one of my main goals was to get my GED,” said Cook, who now attends Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria.
Cook said he encourages all of the students in the Grizzly program to embrace the opportunity to take the GED test if the bill passes.
“Coming here was the second chance that I needed,” Cook said. “There are always cadets who don’t want to go the extra mile, but by going the distance now you gain more opportunities later and the better off you will be.”
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.