By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

BENSALEM – De La Salle Vocational School in Bensalem, Bucks County, a day program of the St. Gabriel’s System that serves about 120 adolescent boys in partnership with the Pennsylvania Academic and Career/Technical Training Alliance (PACTT), has received a $230,000 grant.

In a “Learn to Earn” program, it will provide paid internships for students as they continue their vocational training.

“PACTT was invaluable in working with us on this and they will be invaluable as we implement it,” said James Logan, director of De La Salle Vocational System. “In coordination with PACTT, all of us at De La Salle Vocational are excited to implement this program that we believe can have an incredibly positive impact on the lives of our young both now and into their futures. We are beginning the process immediately.”

An 18-month program, it will provide internships to 25 students in the first year and 50 students in the second year.

“The heart of the program is to teach the guys 21st-century work-force skills,” Logan said.

The students involved, who are between the ages of 16 and 18, can expect to earn approximately $3,500 over the course of the three six-week internships. All three of these “real-world” experiences will be in their area of training at De La Salle, and they will build upon each other to better prepare the youth for full-time employment in their field of choice.

While outside employers provide the worksites, funding for the salaries of the students comes through the grant. Initially, 25 positions have been obtained through the Philadelphia Department of Recreation for building maintenance programs. And De La Salle is looking for other employers who will participate, preferably close to the homes of the participating students.Fields include restaurants, caterers, auto mechanic shops or car dealerships, because the internships are expected to utilize vocational skills taught at De La Salle, especially culinary arts. In the second year of the grant De La Salle hopes to add the auto body and auto mechanics track.

As with all the branches of the St. Gabriel System, an agency of archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, all the teens at De La Salle are sent there by juvenile court and tend to be between the ages of 16 and 18.

Students chosen for the program will probably be young men who have been with De La Salle for about 18 months.

“We would pick guys who demonstrate good progress in completing the programs,” Logan said. “This is incredibly important. One thing that connects them to us is if we can get them employment.”

“We believe that this model will significantly increase the likelihood that the students will graduate from high school and move on to family-sustaining employment and post-secondary training.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.