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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

March 6, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Dropout program in Kent wins national recognition

Marlon Harris visits the iGrad classroom in Kent where he earned his GED last year. He worked closely with tutor Connie Moriarty, left, and teacher Karna Cristina. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

Marlon Harris visits the iGrad classroom in Kent where he earned his GED last year. He worked closely with tutor Connie Moriarty, left, and teacher Karna Cristina. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

The 156 dropouts who have earned diplomas and GED certificates through the unlikely-looking iGrad program know well what a powerful opportunity Kent schools have provided. Each week, they ducked into a down-at-the-heels shopping mall for no-cost online courses that provided them a powerful leg up.

In January, The Seattle Times profiled iGrad as part of its yearlong look at solutions in education, and on Wednesday the National School Boards Association further confirmed the program’s impact with a Grand Prize Magna Award.

The honor recognizes districts making bold moves to improve public education.

Indeed, since iGrad began two years ago, its enrollment has surged. To date, more than 560 young dropouts — many of them from districts outside of Kent — have signed on to complete high school and move onto community college through its online-education courses.

“The demand for our program shows how eager people are to succeed,” said Debbie Straus, president of the Kent School Board. “IGrad is another way we provide equal access to education for all.”

Recognizing that many dropouts leave school because of difficult life circumstances, iGrad also provides help with childcare (many students are single parents), housing (some are homeless) and counseling. The state pays for the program with its basic education funds, which are earmarked to cover instruction for all state residents until age 21.

In accepting the award, Straus noted the rapid demographic changes that have transformed Kent. Once a rural outpost, the 27,000-student district has become the state’s most diverse, with 138 languages spoken.

Schools across the country submitted 250 applications vying for recognition from the NSBA. Kent won for the over-20,000 enrollment category, alongside smaller districts in New York and Louisiana.

Comments | More in News | Topics: dropouts, igrad

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