Work Ready Youth with Soft Skills Training, Work Experience, & High School Diploma

Avery County’s Blue Ridge Academy Receives NC Governor’s Award for Innovative Partnership in Workforce DevelopmentBR Acad Grad 4

An innovative partnership in Avery County is improving options for at-risk and dropout youth in economically-impacted western North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Academy (BRA) was established to focus on recovering and preventing dropouts in Avery County. The growing list of partners focuses their energies on the academy’s staffing, mentoring, soft skills training, work experiences, individual counseling, and supportive services.

Partners include Avery County Schools, Blue Ridge Academy, Daymark Recovery Services, High Country United Way, High Country Workforce Development Board, Mayland Community College Workforce Development, the NCWorks system, and Williams YMCA.

The partnership employs a unique two-part strategy to provide employment and alternative academics for students. The employment portion links credit recovery to paid internships so students earn money and high school credit while gaining career-targeted work experience, which in turn is tied to academics in that youth have to be making progress in their studies to qualify for and keep the paid internship. The academic component provides students with a flexible learning site that is both secure and relaxed. Instructors and counselors work together to help students meet their graduations goals. With a paying job attached to their academic studies, youth rarely quit BRA.

Several innovative strategies are being used to recover at-risk and dropout youth. First, potential applicants are exposed to school and non-school staff to reinforce the need for a diploma. NCWorks staff, YMCA staff, Daymark counselors, and Avery County School staff work together to keep youth engaged and provide a support network as the student works toward the completion of their diploma. Second, eligible youth are co-enrolled in NCWorks youth services in order to receive comprehensive guidance and counseling. A final and important element is the use of paid internships as an incentive to enroll new youth, gain graduation credit, provide needed individual funds, and teach workplace soft skills.

BRA students participate in workshops on job search, softs skills, job-keeping skills, money management, and professional networking as well as work toward their Career Readiness Certificate.

Since the beginning of the BRA, more than 60 youth have attained high school diplomas. The county dropout rate has fallen from 2.66% to 1.23% since the formation of the academy. Notably in the fall of 2014, Avery County was awarded for having the lowest dropout rate in the state.

The Blue Ridge Academy partnership will receive the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Innovative Partnership in Workforce Development at the NC Workforce Development Partnership Conference Awards Banquet in Greensboro on October 29th, 2015.