May 23, 2018
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Jailed teens learning welding, wiring for better futures

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — When the sparks stopped flying from his torch, Zachary Barnes of Cushing stood up, lifted the visor on his welding mask and turned over fused pieces of metal in gloved hands to examine his handiwork.

Barnes, 19, was one of six residents of Mountain View Youth Development Center, the Charleston youth correctional facility, taking classes at United Technologies Center in Bangor on Monday. Under the supervision of Department of Corrections personnel, the students were learning to weld and install electrical wiring, trades that Mountain View officials said they hope will help them get jobs after leaving the facility.

“Welding is a great trade,” Barnes said, taking a break from the smoky welding room. “Even if I don’t make it a career, which I’d like to, it’s still a great skill to have.”

Two students taking part in the pilot program in February graduated and received credits toward their diplomas from Mountain View, which is an approved high school, according to Mountain View Principal Cheryl Quinn.

Mountain View partnered with Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, a nonprofit group that aims to keep at-risk students in school, to start the program after receiving Carl Perkins educational grant funding. United Technologies Center offered to open its facilities to the Mountain View students during summer break.

“It allows them to participate just like they would in any other school,” Quinn said.

The 45-hour courses have been a boost to the knowledge and morale of Mountain View students, according to Pat Gillis of Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, who has been working with the correctional facility and technical school to organize the program.

“They’re kind of the throw-away kids,” Gillis said. “Any attention paid to them is usually negative.”

Students said they took pride in their work and wanted to embrace the opportunity to get away from Mountain View for a few hours.

“They offered me something that would keep me busy, and I figured maybe I’d be good at it,” said Carl Jackson, 18. “I don’t mean to brag, but I really feel I could do this as a career.”

On the other side of the technical high school, three students drilled holes and ran wiring through the frame of a mock home under construction with the help of instructor Terry Shortt.

“I can’t tell you how enthused these guys are,” Shortt said. “They can’t wait to get their hands on the tools.”

Students in the electrical classroom are learning to build circuits, install two- and three-way switches and safely wire a new home.

“They’re doing just about everything a residential electrician would do,” Shortt said. “These guys have a real leg up now.”

“Terry usually checks our stuff out to make sure we don’t kill ourselves,” said a 17-year-old student.

Students get to keep the equipment they use during the classes — about $200 worth — after the program ends, according to Gillis. The educational grant allows Jobs for Maine’s Graduates to purchase the tools, welding torches and protective gear so students can use them when they leave to pursue jobs.

“A lot of us aren’t used to feeling this kind of success,” Barnes said before picking up his welding mask and going back to his metal. “It feels good.”

Barnes expects to leave Mountain View by the end of September. He said he plans to start classes in diesel mechanics at Eastern Maine Community College in January.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error. After the program ends, students get to keep the equipment they use during the classes, which is about $200 worth, not about $20,000 worth.

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