How LEAD Charter School Helped this Student Turn His Passion for Problem-Solving Into a Career Path

Although Freeman would tackle most obstacles head-on, that didn’t necessarily translate to the classroom. Self-described as an “unmotivated” student in school, Freeman fell behind in his studies. 

“I don’t really like to ask for help when I’m struggling with something, so I’d just sit there and not know what I was doing,” he said. “If I feel like I’m not getting the attention that I need, then I’m not going to put in any effort.”

That push came one day when he learned about LEAD Charter School, an alternative high school in Newark where students can obtain their high school diploma and certifications in one of three career pathways - construction, allied health or technology. 

Upon learning about LEAD, Freeman decided to give the school a try and pursue a CompTIA+ certification track. Through the program, Freeman was introduced to intro-level information technology skills while pursuing his high school diploma. 

“But when I came to LEAD, I actually stepped up and started doing my work,” he said. “The teachers made sure everybody was on the same page and that everybody knew what to do. They made it easier.”

Through LEAD’s YouthBuild school, the programming combines education and workforce development in order to prepare young people for post-secondary goals they are interested in pursuing. YouthBuild is an initiative designed to provide young people ages 16 to 24 with an opportunity to earn a GED while gaining on-the-job training. 

Now, Freeman is ready to step into the workforce. 

After graduation in June, Freeman immediately began working at Petco while he looked for jobs that could match his passion for problem-solving. Then, he heard about a job opportunity that would meet his passion: a Black Seal Boiler Operator. 

Boiler operators are certified to manage complex heating systems in residential and commercial buildings. Operators are responsible for providing heat and hot water to large buildings. Due to the various types of boiler variation systems, including steam boilers, electric boilers, hot water boilers, among others, earning a Black Seal license would grant Freeman a stable career that will always be in demand. 

That was enough for the young man to begin a six-month certification process, which he started in October. The certification involves 13 online courses and 150 hours of training via apprenticeship. About halfway through the course, Freeman said he is already seeing similarities between boiler systems and his beloved passion for computers.

“The actual boiler would be the motherboard of the computer, and the pipes would be the wires,” he said. “And the valves - those are the circuits and the switches. You have to know what’s connected to what - you have to learn your building.”

Freeman is almost finished with his online coursework and said he is now looking forward to his apprenticeship. To date, starting salaries for boiler operators or advance custodians start at $20 an hour with lots of potential for growth, depending on the size of the building, the boiler system or the years on the job. Once he’s fully certified, he said he hopes to start applying his skills at a local school in his community. 

In the meantime, Freeman said he plans to continue working full-time until he can trade in his job for a career. That flexibility, he said, was afforded to him through the YouthBuild program. 

“The great thing about the YouthBuild model is that it equips young people with a skillset that can be transferred into a variety of career paths,” said Robert Clark, CEO of Newark Opportunity Youth Network, a multi-pronged community outreach organization that helps underserved youth in the city with education, workforce development, policy advocacy, and systems building. “Adrien is a prime example of someone utilizing the tools they’ve been given to build their future.”

Moving forward, Freeman said that as he pursues his career goals, he is happy to be backed by the support of his family and the LEAD community. 

“It’s good to know that my family is in my corner and that I have people to always be there to support me, no matter what it is,” he said.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-12-30 03:40:54 -0800