Two Northeast residents were awarded full scholarships to Orleans Technical College after completing Project WOW, a program for high school dropouts.
When Isiah McCloud heard his name called, the speech he had prepared completely left his mind.
He had been told he would be giving a speech at JEVS Human Service’s Project WOW graduation, but hadn’t known the circumstances.
The Lawncrest resident had been named one of two recipients for a full-ride scholarship to Orleans Technical College. Melanie Bell, a Mayfair resident, was named as the other recipient.
Before entering the graduation ceremony at City Hall on June 14, McCloud knew he wanted to continue going to school. He had been planning to apply for financial aid immediately after graduation. An hour later, he left the ceremony knowing exactly how he would do it.
“My heart started beating real fast and I didn’t know what to say,” said a still surprised McCloud just after the ceremony.
Bell received the news a little later — bad traffic had caused her to miss the ceremony, but she found out she had received the scholarship as soon as she arrived.
“This was something I really needed,” she said. “It was a miracle that I got it. It’s not what I expected from the program — the most I expected was a diploma.”
McCloud and Bell were among 42 students to graduate from the 24-week course. Project WOW is offered to high school dropouts to help get their GEDs and transition into promising careers. They received a crash course in a wide variety of trade skills such as plumbing, carpentry and electrical, as well as Information Technology skills. Many students graduated with OSHA certifications.
In his speech, McCloud said his instructors and classmates had become like his second family — or even his real one.
“I’ve always had people who supported me, but it wasn’t always 24/7,” he said. “It was nothing but just tough love from my brothers.”
He was an A+ student in middle school, but found that he wasn’t being pushed when he got to high school. He frequently got in trouble for bad behavior and forced his mom to miss work, until she allowed him to decide whether to continue school or not. He dropped out as a freshman and got a job at Burger King.
McCloud learned of the program from his brother, a previous participant.
“I take the bus past my high school I used to go to every day and I thank God I dropped out,” he said.
Bell said the program helped her turn her life around.
“It didn’t come easy, but nothing comes easy, so I worked hard,” she said. “Everyone there was supportive and welcoming.”
McCloud will study carpentry at Orleans, while Bell will study HVAC.
Otis Hackney, chief education officer for the Mayor’s Office of Education, spoke about his own experience before the names were called.
“I’m a Philadelphia story,” he said, relating how he himself failed out of high school. “It’s not about how you start, it’s not about what people told you you can do and can’t do — it’s about how you finish.”
Hackney highlighted the high poverty rate of the city, and reminded the graduates that even though they had gotten this far, there was still much left to do.
“Don’t stop,” he said. “You work is so important to the city. The city needs you to be successful.” ••