TAMPA — The school year has just begun, but it's not too early for some students to look for alternatives.
Bowers-Whitley, a career center in north Tampa, is recruiting students who do not expect they will graduate.
As an alternative to dropping out, the school offers job training and industry certification.
For students with low self-esteem coming after years of academic failure, it also offers hope.
"We treat them like they're the greatest thing in the world," said Anthony Colucci, the school principal.
Located near the University Area Community Center, Bowers-Whitley offers training in 10 careers including early childhood education, nursing and automotive technology.
Students must be at least 16 and at least one grade behind, without an extensive history of behavior problems.
Regardless of what grade they last completed, they enter the 11th-grade class.
They take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but are not subject to the same requirements as those who receive standard high school diplomas.
Instead, they receive performance-based diplomas.
With a current enrollment of 300 students, Bowers-Whitley has room for 80 more and will take new students through September, Colucci said.
Many openings remain in the school's construction program, and in a new program for fashion design.
Enrollment in the construction program has dropped off in recent years, Colucci said. That's largely because so many students have seen their parents, relatives and neighbors go without work because of the building recession.
The school at one point considered dropping that program, he said. "But we will always need plumbers, we will always need electricians and we will always need maintenance people."
The school did drop its interior design program, as those jobs were tied to the struggling homebuilding industry.
In its place, Bowers-Whitley is offering a fashion design program.
"Some of these students will work as seamstresses, perhaps in a wedding store, anything that has to do with clothes," Colucci said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.