West Allis district and business offer a first in Second Chances

Published on: 10/16/2012

West Allis - A new school at Lakeside Manufacturing is giving about 15 area students, who might otherwise have dropped out of high school, the chance to graduate and get on-the-job training.

The Second Chance Partners for Education center at Lakeside, which opened Sept. 4, is the first of its kind for the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District.

'It's the first of its kind in Milwaukee County, which is part of the reason we wanted to get involved,' said Mary Steinbrecher, executive director of Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce's Council of Small Business Executives.

A learning partnership

The council partnered with Second Chance and the West Allis/West Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce to raise $75,000 for start-up costs for the Lakeside classroom, which offers an alternative to high school juniors and seniors who have fallen behind or might otherwise have pulled back from the traditional high school experience.

'Students participating in youth apprenticeship programs, such as Second Chance, earn a high school diploma by meeting the requirements of a rigorous curriculum that is linked to hands-on experiences in business and industry - in this case, the course of study at Lakeside and partner companies,' explained Kurt Wachholz, superintendent of the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District.

Lakeside is one of 12 Second Chance centers in the region, working with 36 high schools and more than 75 business partners as part of a 21-month program, which is funded by school districts, business partners, grants and donations.

Students, or youth apprentices, study typical core classes, including math, science and social studies, as well as financial literacy, critical thinking, ethics, lifetime fitness and personal and social responsibility. They also take courses in blueprint reading, computer aided design and high performance manufacturing.

When they're done, they have not only a high school diploma, but also a certificate from the state Department of Workforce Development and advanced standing with the Wisconsin Technical College system, so they can continue their educations.

That's a part of the program that appealed to Wachholz.

'We are always looking to provide more opportunities to meet the needs of all of our students. … These students will be career- and college-ready.' And, Wachholz said, 'They have an opportunity to earn a paycheck while learning and expanding their post-secondary options.'

Business and student benefits

Area business leaders feel like they're benefitting, too.

'It's a very gratifying experience,' Steinbrecher said. 'Manufacturers feel they're giving something back. They're also being rewarded by potentially training students who can become future employees.

'This is the first center that we've been involved with, and we want to continue not only contributing the funds but also being actively engaged with the center. It is one way we can say we're making a difference.'

And not only for students.

'Manufacturers don't want the perception that they're offering low-paying, dirty, crappy jobs, because they're not. And they need to get the word out. This is going to help them do that,' Diane Brandt, executive director of the West Allis/West Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce.

But the real appeal, Brandt said, is that the Second Chance program is a win-win for students, businesses and the community.

'The students get a really unique opportunity to learn and work as a team and be in a totally different environment,' Brandt said. 'The school district is providing more opportunities for their students, and helping students with the obvious void in the skills gap. Students and parents are getting to start talking about these jobs and these careers, and more people will go into manufacturing.'

Those involved with the Lakeside project said they hope to open more centers in the area and get more companies involved. The group has even considered forming an advisory committee with local business leaders, Brandt said.

'Right now, it's only one center in our community and they can only have maybe 15 kids. We're hoping that many other children will want to pursue this kind of opportunity,' Brandt said.