Blaine Hahn, of Hayden, officially began dreaming again this week.
He enrolled at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene in hopes of becoming a mechanical engineer. After dropping out of high school in ninth grade due to bullying, the 19-year-old studied on his own but never thought he’d be able to attend college.
Then he discovered a new NIC program called I-BEST, or Idaho Basic Education and Skills Training, that helps students work toward their GEDs while also taking college classes. Hahn will start this fall in a machining program with a goal of eventually attending engineering school.
“It seems more possible now,” Hahn said. I-BEST, he said, “is pretty cool. It’ll help a lot of people.”
The program was inspired by the fact that Idaho ranks last in the nation in first-time freshmen returning for their second year of college, an NIC news release said. I-BEST was piloted at NIC last year, then expanded this year to include 1.5 staff positions. It has been funded by a two-year, $521,000 grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.
Program coordinator Molly Kreyssler and adviser Judith George are reaching deeply into the community to find people who might benefit from the program. Their goal is to enroll 60 students for the fall semester.
They’ve been to skate parks, tattoo parlors, homeless shelters, even the Kootenai County Jail. Whenever someone signs up, they ask where else they should go to recruit. One woman called and inquired about the program after hearing about it from her boyfriend, who is in jail.
“They are usually people who didn’t have a good school experience, so we want them to feel confident and capable,” George said. “We teach them how to go to college.”
I-BEST students are eligible if they did not graduate from high school and can pass basic skills tests including reading, writing and math. Simultaneous with their GED study, they take classes in one of four NIC programs: machining, welding, certified nursing assistant and office specialist, which trains students in computer skills and business software.
Students are considered successful if after one semester they earn their GED and either go to work or go on in college, George said. “Our goal was to give them skills that are in demand,” she said.
Kreyssler said the college also will assist students in finding ways to pay for school. The Albertson Foundation provides some scholarships and most students will qualify for financial aid, she said.
“If you’re thinking about education, we’ll help you,” Kreyssler said.
The foundation grant also will help provide tools for machining and welding, GED textbooks and emergency funds to help cover small costs that might prevent students from attending class, such as gas money.