October 30, 2023 – If there’s one thing to know about Davidson-Davie Community College’s NextGen program, it’s that it holds stock in its name – it truly focuses on helping students get to that next step in their lives. Funded by the Piedmont Triad Regional Workforce Board, the initiative aims to get students to earn their high school diplomas while also placing them in sustainable job training and career paths.
NextGen, formerly known as GetREAL, has existed for 28 years and was created after local public schools and Davidson-Davie identified a need for specialized services for youth in the community who were dropping out of school. The program targets students ages 16 to 24.
“Getting a high school diploma is the first step in this program,” explains Sherri Trotter, director of NextGen at Davidson-Davie. “At the same time, they are working toward a sustainable career. These students are job shadowing and talking about career paths.”
While it seems like a lofty task – completing high school requirements while focusing on career paths and job training – NextGen is guiding these students toward becoming successful adults in the community. And they’re getting great results and feedback.
“They come to us for various reasons,” Trotter says. “They can’t be consistent with attendance, they’re bullied, and they have anxiety troubles.
Trotter explains the college works with school counselors in Davidson County, as well as Lexington and Thomasville City Schools. Folks in the school system are well-versed in what Davidson-Davie offers. “If they have done everything they can to help a student and nothing is working, they give them information about NextGen. Every day in the fall, we get phone calls from parents. We had 11 new students this week alone.”
With small numbers and the availability of one-on-one attention, students not only feel welcome, but safe, Trotter says. “What we provide here is that we all have the same mindset. We are 100 percent student-centered. We don’t do this job for us. We tell them every day, you start over. If you make a mistake, tomorrow when you come back, you’re good.”
For example, Trotter says she worked with one student who commented, “my high school teachers didn’t like me. I was a handful; I wanted to go to the bathroom all the time.” She says what was really happening was the student wanted to go to the bathroom and hide. “It’s different here. We don’t have 25 students in class; we have six. They can go to the bathroom. The difference is we can take the time to get to know them. … (The student) said, ‘you like me here.’”
That’s what makes a huge difference in the lives of these students; open conversation and celebrations of their success. In fact, students actually have the opportunity to ring a bell when they earn a credit. “We treat this like a mini high school. When they get a credit, we make a big deal. We clap and yell for them. We post it on Facebook and Instagram. We send pictures to parents. We really celebrate them.”
There are also service-learning opportunities during the school day, such as gaining experience with a sustainable community garden as part of a partnership with the Agricultural Extension in Davidson County, as well as the Rotary Club in Lexington. These experiences help students get outside of the box, Trotter explains. The partnership even sets up the chance to cook with the fruits of their labor.
The sustainable garden is a practical way for students to get real-life experience – especially since the college now offers a two-year degree in sustainable agriculture. “This experience can lead to a career path,” Trotter adds.
Once students earn their high school diploma, they have the chance to move into one of many career paths offered at the college, such as welding. “We have one student who was in his junior year and enrolled in welding, and when he graduated, he wanted to take the next step. He’s now employed as a welder,” Trotter says.
Trotter adds, “Our main goal and focus is setting these students up with sustainable wage jobs, and earning their high school diploma is the first step in getting that job.”
NextGen is located off campus, at 220 E. 1st Ave., in Lexington, and the program is also offered on the Davie Campus. For more info about NextGen, visit davidsondavie.edu/nextgen.
Davidson-Davie Community College (www.DavidsonDavie.edu), which incorporated Davie County into its name in 2021, is a fully accredited, multi-campus college where students of all ages and backgrounds pursue academic and career-focused education in order to build successful futures. As one of 58 institutions within the North Carolina Community College System, Davidson-Davie offers more than 40 degree and professional certificate programs, as well as affordable college-credit coursework to students who plan to transfer to four-year schools. With a mission to serve the changing needs of students competing in a global environment, Davidson-Davie is committed to quality education, innovative and equitable learning experiences, training, and support across a wide range of 21st-century career fields.
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