Teenagers at risk for dropping out of high school now are getting on-the-job training while earning their high-school diploma or GED.
The Manatee County public school system launched its Career Link program in January. It's now helping 20 students and growing. Many of the students were not thriving in a traditional high school setting.
Students spend most of the day learning a vocational trade such as automotive service, machining, culinary, marketing among others. Then they spend a few hours in a computer lab, taking courses to earn their high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED). A teacher is assigned to offer advice when needed.
For some, taking apart an engine would be a major a job, but not for Cosme Valle, 18.
"It's just hanging out with friends you know. It doesn't really feel like work," Valle said. "I don't see it as work."
He's spending the rest of his high school classroom hours learning the automotive trade at Manatee Technical College.
"I can see myself having a career in this," he said.
"They are allowed to really get more of a hands-on experience and get to work a lot sooner," said Jose Cestero, an automotive services instructor. "They may not want to go directly to college right after high school, so they start here during high school.
"While students spend most of their day getting that vocational training, they then come here, where they lean their academics working toward that diploma. They also have a real-life teacher in here to help them if they need it."
These students say graduating is important to them, especially when they are searching for a job.
"The first thing they asked me was, 'Do I have a high school diploma?'" Valle said. "And that's pretty much anywhere they're going to ask you that."
Students believe getting a jobs certificate will give them an edge.
"Those are the types of things that you do it like a shop," said student Curtis Hostetler, referring to the program's benefits.
Now, Valle and Hostetler are already working in the automotive field, and they said that is because they are enrolled in vocational trade program.
Manatee Technical College is the site of several ADULT job certification programs.