Five students return to PHS to become first graduates of ChallengeU program
PETERSBURG — Students who dropped out of school dropped back in Wednesday … as graduates.
Five students walked across the stage at Petersburg High School as the first success stories of “ChallengeU,” a national program that uses today’s technology to get former dropouts back into school and get their diplomas.
On Wednesday, five students --Destiney Adams, Jacoby Dewitt, Salena Jones, Skie Langston and Camarii Ware -- wrote their names in history, not to mention their tickets to the future.
ChallengeU uses technology like cell phones to help students come back to school and get their degrees. The program is completely free to students and is funded by the state. Students and their families don’t spend any money to join. All the technology, including the cell phone, the cell phone plans and even calculators are provided by ChallengeU.
For students who dropped out of high school as juniors or seniors ChallengeU give them access to the necessary coursework to graduate. The classes are directly in line with Virginia’s Standards of Learning, as well, and all of the teachers are licensed.
The company also helps students define a path after they graduate from high school. ChallengeU partners with recruiters, success coaches and the like to help lead students to various career paths and higher education after their graduation.
ChallengeU is based out of Richmond, and Petersburg High School is the first school in the country to partner with them.
“It was good,” Jones said about taking part in ChallengeU. She said she plans to attend John Tyler Community College in the fall and also is working with Virginia Career Works to develop her career.
Some of the speakers at the ceremony included PHS Principal April Hawkins and Michael Cournoyer, ChallengeU’s co-founder and vice president of finance.
Hawkins started her speech by saying that she promised these graduates that she would speak as if this was a traditional ceremony.
“Growing up is a series of graduations,” Hawkins said during her speech. “Some are the result of studying and learning which is aided by teachers and parents but is mainly your own accomplishment.”
“What we are here to celebrate today is what you have accomplished. What came about not simply because you grew older but because you learned and persevered. The graduation ceremony and the diploma you received announces to the world you are ready to go ahead to the next step in your lives. It has taught you how much more there is to learn,” Hawkins added. “One of the things that graduation says is that you are ready to get more out of life. Never forget what you have accomplished here at Petersburg High School. Don’t stop here.”
Cournoyer stated that they are currently revamping the system. ChallengeU is working on the opportunity to reach more kids and make the program more accessible to students by making it available on smartphones.
According to Cournoyer, the plan is to have around 400 kids enrolled in the program in Virginia by September. He said that ChallengeU has just recently signed contracts with school systems in Chesterfield and Powhatan counties.
“But today was proof that it can work,” said Cournoyer.
Lindsey Lanham may be reached at 804-722-5155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.