Impact Profile of Aaron Dale: Disconnected Youth Get Second Chance to "X-Cel" in CollegeJFF, September 2012
JFF programs and partners help low-skilled workers gain the experience, credentials, and confidence to improve their economic opportunity. Here is one story of a hard-working American doing just that with the help of X-Cel Adult Education, a Postsecondary Success Initiative-supported program in Boston, Massachusetts:
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AARON DALE, 24, works full time as a paralegal at a Boston law firm while pursuing an Associate’s degree in business management at Bunker Hill Community College. He has come a long way as a result of hard work and persistence, but he has needed more than that to get there. He needed a second chance and the helping hand he now gets from X-Cel Adult Education, a program that puts disconnected youth back on track to postsecondary success.
Aaron’s path to college took a drastic turn in high school. At age 17, he served 14 months in prison for assault. When he got out at age 19, he recalls, “I was hungry to hurry up and really start over from scratch.”
The day after his release, Aaron tried to go back to high school—but his old school couldn’t take him back due to his age and criminal record. So he received his GED at Dorchester’s Log School and started attending a college prep class. He tried to save for college, but when various temp jobs didn’t give him enough to make ends meet, he had to drop the class.
Determined to gain a career foothold, he signed up for a nine-month paralegal certificate program he’d seen on TV. “I was so in a rush to feel like I needed to get something done,” he said.
Though the program cost $13,000 (a loan Aaron is still deferring), it enabled him to intern with a law firm that later hired him full time at $30,000 a year—on the condition he pursue a four-year degree. He was ready. After his experience in the legal system, Aaron wanted to learn more about criminal law, but he didn’t know how or where to go back to school.
Aaron returned to the Log School, where he found X-Cel Adult Education, a program that would give him the help he’d need to succeed in college. X-Cel provides students with rigorous instruction, a bridge into college, and first-year college supports to help them stay on track to a degree. These three phases form JFF’s Back on Track model, designed to connect off-track youth to college success. JFF supports X-Cel and other Back on Track programs through the Postsecondary Success Initiative, a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation designed to reengage former dropouts and help them earn a postsecondary credential with value in the labor market.
With X-Cel’s help, Aaron enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College and prepared for his college placement exams. Just as important, he says, X-Cel’s support network helps him navigate any roadblocks he encounters. When Aaron had trouble registering, an X-Cel staffer was there to help. When Aaron dropped a course due to surgery and ended up on academic probation, that same staffer accompanied him to appeal his probation to a dean.
“I felt like I had people around me to show me how to go about it the right way,” Aaron says. “Any time I had a concern or needed anything, they kept me focused so I could keep going on with school. That’s the biggest experience I took away from X-Cel.”
Aaron has earned nine credits and plans to transfer to the University of Massachusetts—Boston to earn his Bachelor’s degree. And now he aspires to work for an organization like X-Cel to help others get the opportunities he was given.
At first, Aaron had placed getting a job over everything. But these days, he says, school comes first. “If this job goes away, one thing I’ll still have is the education.”
ADDITIONAL INFO: 40% of X-Cel graduates have not only enrolled in college but completed at least two semesters of college. Nationwide, only 3% of GED graduates earn a postsecondary credential.