The Youth Building Alternatives Class of 2020 at Learning Works graduated at a ceremony in Deering Oaks Park in Portland last month. Contributed

Youth alternative program students celebrate graduation

The Youth Building Alternatives Class of 2020 at Learning Works graduated in a socially distanced ceremony in Deering Oaks Park on Aug. 13. The ceremony was attended by a small number of staff and the graduates’ families.

Shirley Palma gave the class speech. Contributed

According to Learning Works’ website, the Youth Building Alternatives program serves teens and young adults who have struggled to find their way in the traditional education system. Since 1994, it has helped high school dropouts age 16-24 to successfully transition to adulthood through an alternative education model that includes construction skills training, leadership development and job and life skills.

The commencement address was given by Executive Director Heather Davis, who spoke of the creativity, resilience and resourcefulness the students had shown in taking a unique path to high school graduation.

“These students have exhibited resilience and perseverance this year. Students often arrive at YBA with feelings of hesitation or even defeat. Coming to our program is an act of hope and bravery,” said Davis in a prepared release. “It is our duty to meet that bravery by creating a safe space where students can learn and thrive. This year, our 2020 cohort was met with the additional challenges of COVID-19. Despite personal challenges and global uncertainty, they did not give up. We are so proud of their accomplishments.”

Julie Stone, a former Jobs for Maine’s Graduates specialist, addressed the students during the ceremony as well.

“I think it’s safe to say that these students represent some of the most resilient, hardworking and persistent students that YBA has ever graduated, because they made it to this stage under some of the toughest circumstances,” she said.

Shirley Palma, who gave the class speech, said at commencement, “I remember walking through the doors on the first day and feeling in place automatically. It was so welcoming, like a second home.”