DURHAM — Since 2007, EDGE Training and Placement Inc. has been the last stop for students 16 to 24 years old with no place to finish high school.
Some dropped out or were been denied re-entry into public schools because of criminal records or gang associations. Others were pregnant or teen mothers.
Though not a traditional school – there were no bells or buses – in seven years, EDGE (Education, Development, Growth and Employment) helped almost 200 students, with a majority receiving General Education Diplomas or GEDs and many going on to college or jobs.
Last month, EDGE held a graduation ceremony, complete with caps and gowns, for its last 28 students. A lack of funding forced the nonprofit at 705 S. Mangum St. to close.
Fran Alexander, the program’s 74-year old “principal,” is a retired adult education teacher who did this kind of work in Los Angeles years ago.
After moving to Durham where she had family, Alexander said she prayed for an assignment and eventually started EDGE.
In California, adult schools are where many dropouts attain high school diplomas or GEDs and learn vocational trades like welding or automotive repair.
With this in mind, Alexander started EDGE on a $120,000 anti-gang grant that lasted two years.
In those years they awarded 85 GEDs.
Since then the program has operated on state grants and donations that have dried up. With recent hard times, Alexander took on other jobs to pay for students’ meals and utilities out of pocket.
But it was not enough.
For six months last year, Alexander’s family paid the building’s $2,600 per month. The landlord allowed them to stay until graduation and the program is selling remaining items to pay off utilities.
Alexander said EDGE needed about $80,000 a year. According to its 2012 IRS 990 Form, the program brought in only $41,000 for 2011 – down from almost $81,000 in 2010 which was down from about $126,000 in 2009.
EDGE helped rebuild lives.
With individualized instruction, the program guided students in applying for colleges, vocational training, resume and interviewing techniques. It emphasized personal development through self-discipline and community service.
“Kids are all the same, in (that) they need direction,” said Alexander, the winner of an outstanding service award from the N.C. Juvenile Services Association in 2011. “Sometimes they make bad decisions, but education is the answer.”
EDGE engaged students. For those fortunate enough to have parents in their lives, parents were expected to communicate with the program regularly.
Classes, including math, science, social studies, reading and writing, began at 9 a.m. each weekday and stretched into the early afternoon. The facilities held rooms specifically for lessons, tutorials by students from N.C. Central University and a testing room.
‘You got a GED?’
Miracle Barnes, a 17-year-old mother of a 2-year-old, just graduated and said Alexander was always looking for wandering kids.
Students tell how Alexander found a girl sleeping on a bus stop bench and brought her to EDGE.
“She would just roll up and say ‘Hey, you got a GED? Get in,’” Barnes said.
Charquan Rogers, 21, started EDGE in 2009 but “dropped off” and returned last year. She, too, graduated last month.
“Ms. Fran has been a blessing,” Rogers said. “She believes in us when parents and probation officers don’t.”
Rogers said school is hard for students in tough situations. “Ms. Fran” would often let them take their books home to study for a few days and get things back together.
When they were ready to return, they were allowed in.
EDGE alumnus Jatako Scott, 21, is currently in automotive studies at Durham Technical Community College.
He entered the program after a two-year stint in prison and in a testimonial said the program allowed him to get a GED, enter college and become “totally different.”
“I didn’t even realize it, but I gradually began to evolve into a different person,” said Scott. “Other people noticed the change before I did.”
Alexander would often take students in her home until they got on their feet. She would take students’ babies to doctor appointments – anything to help.
All the same, Alexander cautions EDGE was not about her.
She tells how one teen handed her a $100 donation after hearing about the closure.
She told him he did not have money to give and asked what made him feel the need.
“He said, ‘When nobody would let me in school, EDGE took me’,” she said. “‘You never asked about my past, but (about) where I want to go.’”