Alternative HS program help teens succeed

Amati flourishes through offering after dropping out of high school

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  • photo by Rob Yaskovic Youth Connections graduate Andrew Amati.

— High school junior Andrew Amati dropped out of school at the age of 16 because hearing problems made it challenging to function in a large classroom setting. His high school guidance counselor suggested that he check out the Skylands Alternative High School Program, formerly known as Youth Connections, offered at Project Self-Sufficiency.

A few weeks later, Amati was enrolled in the program and well on his way to achieving his General Educational Development Certificate.

He was surprised to learn that in addition to the curriculum, the program also offered on-the-job work experience, tips on workplace etiquette, help with resume development and other services.

Like Amati, approximately seven percent of high school students will drop out of school before reaching the 12th grade, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Students from low-income families are almost twice as likely, 13.8 percent, to drop out of high school as their higher-income peers.

There are many reasons why teens drop out of high school before graduating, ranging from peer pressure to lack of parental support to failure to address special needs. A feeling of boredom or lack of engagement at school is another common problem.

While the reasons for dropping out are varied, it is predictable that those without a high school diploma will fare worse economically than their peers.

Without a diploma, they will have a difficult time finding meaningful work. High school dropouts will earn less, have poor health, live in poverty and have children at an early age, many of whom will also grow up to be high school drop outs, according to EduGuide, a non-profit organization that works with schools and other non-profit groups.

The free Skylands Alternative High School program is designed for teens and young adults who are no longer enrolled in school, or those who have graduated from high school but who may be struggling with literacy.

The program helps guide participants through GED testing, job training, and placement at a work site, in college or the military. Once a participant is accepted into the program, they can expect to undergo assessment testing followed by help with attaining their GED, life skills training, pre-employment training, and other remedial education efforts.

Childcare, lunch and limited transportation assistance is available to all participants. Upon completion of their education, participants will be placed in internships, followed by placement in paid employment, college or the military.

Follow-up support will be provided by Project Self-Sufficiency staff to ensure that the new employees are faring well in their positions, according to an organization news release.

The small class size within the Skylands Alternative High School program was the key to Amati’s success.

“The main reason that I dropped out of high school was because I was in classes with a large amount of people. My hearing problems made it hard to focus. I needed one-on-one time with the teachers, and I got that kind of attention at Project Self-Sufficiency,” he said.

Amati completed his school work and passed his GED test on the first try. He was assigned to an internship at a local restaurant as part of the program.

“I would recommend this program to anyone who is thinking about dropping out of high school. I really liked the people because they didn’t judge me,” he said. “It gave me a new outlook on how to work in a workplace and how to treat others.”

Amati is looking forward to starting college in the fall, and plans on pursuing a career in game design. He will be taking online courses instead of attending classes in person.

“I think it would be easier for me to do at home. I can learn it by myself,” he said.

Eligibility guidelines for the Skylands Alternative High School program are strict. Participants must be local residents between the ages of 16 and 21, who fall below the federal poverty guidelines.

Male participants are required to register with the Selective Service System in order to qualify.

Project Self-Sufficiency is a private non-profit community-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families residing in northwestern New Jersey. The agency’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to improve their lives and the lives of their children through the achievement of personal and economic self-sufficiency and family stability.

For assistance in applying for the Skylands Alternative High School program, or to find out more about the other programs and services available at Project Self-Sufficiency call 973-940-3500 or visit

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