Evening program at Project LIFT aims to help students succeed

When he dropped out of West Charlotte High School at age 17 last year, Rahmel Sloan tried to land a job wherever he could, but no one called him back, he said.

Then someone came looking for him – his former social studies teacher, Tyrone Miller.

“It hurt me when I found out he had dropped out,” Miller said. “It really hurt me. It hurt me to the core.”

Miller helps run the new evening program at Project LIFT, a five-year, $55 million effort to dramatically boost achievement at West Charlotte High and its feeder schools.

Sloan joined the new program on its first night, Jan. 23. He needs to pass only an English class to graduate from West Charlotte High, and he now expects to do so in June.

At an open house from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Project LIFT, AT&T will announce a $300,000 donation as the evening program’s primary underwriter. Through its nationwide AT&T Aspire initiative, the company has committed $350 million to boost graduation rates and prepare more students for college and careers.

“At AT&T, we believe that education has a greater impact on a person’s future success than any other factor,” said Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Carolina. “The students enrolled in the Evening Program embody that same commitment to education and determination to succeed.”

Launched in 2012, Project LIFT serves 7,500 students, and the difference it can make is already showing up on graduation day: From 2012 to 2013, West Charlotte High saw a 15 percentage point increase in its graduation rate.

“Project LIFT is testimony to the fact that Charlotte believes in education and in working together to respond to the needs of its children and give them the educational opportunities they need,” Mayor Patrick Cannon said.

Project LIFT’s evening program runs until 7 p.m. It opened with more than two dozen students in grades 10 through 12 who are between 17 and 20 years old, said Timisha Barnes-Jones, co-principal of West Charlotte High and the LIFT Academy. The plan is to have 50 students in the LIFT Academy Evening Program this fall, she said.

“Some are teen parents and can’t come to school during traditional hours due to child care,” Barnes-Jones said. “Some are over-age and have jobs. Some need a different learning environment” where they get more individual attention in smaller classrooms.

“We had several students who were on the precipice of giving up” until the evening program opened, Barnes-Jones said.

A 20-year-old Project LIFT student who was about to give up is now sticking with the program, Miller said. “ ‘I’m doing it for my kids,’ ” Miller said the student told him. “ ‘This is my last hope.’ ”

“That’s what brings tears to the eyes of an educator,” Miller said.

Another student told him, “Mr. Miller, there’s a generational curse in my family, and I want to break the curse” by being the first to graduate high school.

Barnes-Jones steered two students into the evening program who’d approached her in the school cafeteria to tell her they were dropping out of high school.

“You have kids who had lost hope,” Miller said. “Your job is to give them that hope back.”

Sloan, now 18, said he dropped out of high school because he knew he wasn’t going to pass a required English class. Miller found him through his sister.

“We went looking for him,” Miller said. “We look for kids we know will be successful.”

At Project LIFT, Miller is working with Sloan on goals the student would like to achieve. He’s also helping him get a job in food service at The Cypress of Charlotte retirement community.

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