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Prince George’s County government officials and educators recently celebrated the first group of students to graduate from Youth CareerConnect, a $7 million U.S. Department of Labor grant enrichment initiative designed to boost college and career readiness across the country.

County Executive Rushern Baker congratulated Bladensburg High School and Fairmount Heights High School students for successfully completing job training on healthcare and information technology during the youth organization’s Senior Celebration at Prince George’s County Community College on May 11. “This is one of many steps that we’re doing to move Prince George’s County forward,” Baker said. “One of the things that we tried to do with this administration is really to tie our education system with our executive and to use all of our resources.”

Program Director Yolanda Tully said 2,500 students from Bladensburg, Fairmont Heights, and Potomac High School will participate in the program over the next four years. She hopes the program will make sure students graduate, make sure students receive support through tutoring and mentorship, and make sure students get college credit and job skills before graduating high school.

Through the program students participated in financial literacy training, test preparation and employer interview preparation, and many worked at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham-Seabrook, Maryland to get hand-on training in the medical field. The program will also provide training in homeland security and cyber security.

“All of our partners that come together provide support and not only help those students get those skills but to help them successfully get through high school,” Tully said. “They (students) are leaving high school with not just the skills in those fields, but certifications, as well.”

Bowie State University, Lockheed Martin, and Prince George’s County Community College are among several program partners who helped students build academic and work skills. Teaming with outside professionals has been one of the biggest strengths of the program, according to Torrie Walker, Fairmount Heights High School principal.

“The program just has a lot of benefits to exposure that normally students would not receive,” she said. “We had so many students to participate in internships last summer. We also had students to attend a Bowie State summer program.”

Walker also boasts of more than 200 Fairmount Heights students receiving qualifying accuplacer scores that allow them to take high school classes for half the day and Prince George’s County Community College classes for the second half of their day, paying only for books. About 65 students have taken advantage of the program, with at least one student almost set to earn an associate’s degree.

“Dual enrollment has definitely been a benefit when you can begin college early,” Walker said.

According to the Maryland Department of education, more than 95 percent of Bladensburg students completed the requirements needed to receive a diploma. Each graduating senior, who participated in the program, has also been accepted into college in the fall, with one joining the U.S. Army. “Through the Bladensburg YCC program, I was able to have a lot of internships,” said Keyri Bonilla, a senior from Bladensburg. “We all have skills to be able to excel in any field we want to go into.” He said he will be a pre-medicine major at the University of Maryland College Park as a Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient.

The program employed 63 Prince George’s County Public School students for six weeks last year and will nearly triple that number this year with 163 working students.  “You’re going to a get a chance to really enhance your skills so you can get into science and medicine,” Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Jim Coleman told the students during the program’s opening ceremony. “ are well on their way to transforming the world. We’re looking right at the next Bill Gates, the next Barrack Obamas, the next Michelle Obamas and the next Rushern Bakers.”