CLARKSDALE – Three organizations in the Mississippi Delta that focus on economic development and job training will get about $2.7 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to help youth obtain a GED and receive jobs in vocational careers.

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith made the announcement last month that Clarksdale, Greenville, and Yazoo City communities will train and educate high school dropouts through YouthBuild, a community-based, pre-apprenticeship program administered by the Department of Labor.

YouthBuild’s focus is providing pathways to education, jobs, and entrepreneurship to at-risk youth ages 16-24 who have dropped out of high school in hopes of them rebuilding themselves as well as their communities to break the cycle of poverty, its website stated. The labor department announced that YouthBuild programs across the country will be awarded $85 million in grants.

The Mississippi programs receiving money are:

• Mississippi Action for Community Education, Inc., Greenville ($1,098,000)

•  Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Worker Opportunities, Inc. Clarksdale ($901,228)

• Gateway Community Development Corp., Yazoo City ($700,000)

YouthBuild programs help youth to complete high school or state equivalency degree programs and cultivate home building skills to provide low income housing. Participants learn vocational skills in construction, health care, information technology, and hospitality, and they participate in community service activities and civic engagement, according to the Department of Labor’s website.

“The YouthBuild program has a positive impact on Mississippi by offering youth opportunities to advance their education and gain valuable workplace skills,” said Hyde-Smith in a release.  “I’m pleased the Labor Department has approved these resources to continue offering opportunities to more youth in the Mississippi Delta.”

Even though the high school drop out rate among 16 to 24-year-olds currently stands at about 6 percent, it has dropped over the years, about 3.2 percent lower than it was in 2006, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. However, the rate among males is higher than the nation’s average at 7 percent, with females at about 5 percent.

For Hispanic males the rate stands at 10 percent and at 8.2 percent for black males. White males are below the national average at 5.8 percent.

Last year, 85 percent of high schoolers graduated nationally. Mississippi’s graduation rate continues to climb, and is only two points lower than the national average.

But for some schools in the Mississippi Delta, they still have ways to go. For the three districts in Coahoma County, the Coahoma Early College sits at 82 percent. Clarksdale Municipal School District is at 74 percent, and the Coahoma County School District is at 69 percent, according to the Mississippi Department of Education 2017-2018 report card.

So what are the options for those who don’t complete high school?

Donald Green, executive director of Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Worker Opportunities, Inc., said it starts with allowing those individuals to get another chance by getting a GED and/or taking up a trade. And for the first time, the YouthBuild program, is making its way to Northeast Mississippi.

Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Worker Opportunities, Inc., helps seasonal or migrant workers who are economically disadvantaged get jobs by making sure the workers are up to par with the latest technology to do what the work requires.

But with the funding from the labor department, they get to expand their work by partnering with Coahoma Community College and working with young people over three years who may be interested in taking up a trade (whether its carpentry, plumbing, e.g.) and receiving their GED.

They are currently looking for 20 applicants, specifically those who have a “desire to succeed,” and not just taking up space in the classroom, said Green.

“We expect a lot from the participants. It’s going to be hard, but we expect participation, and we expect them to apply themselves,” he added.

Vocational education is important, but has gotten lost along the way due to the advancement of computers and some aspects of technology, said Green.

“It’s hard to find good plumbers, good technicians, good electricians,” he said. “Everyone can benefit from this. Everyone’s house will need maintenance at some point. …We’re going to teach them soft skills, life skills, and … starting a career. I’m excited.”

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Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and was a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She was also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.