The alternative programs introduce students to art and culture, in the form of visits to St. Louis' free museums. They help students find employment. Social workers take their kids to interviews and job fairs and sometimes even provide clothes; at least one boy in Doors to Success has a wardrobe culled from Boyd's husband's closet.

Funding remains precarious. Covenant House moved into a new building last April, but Doors to Success has been gypsy-like for most of its existence; the Florissant location (there are also branches in Maplewood and Spanish Lake) just moved to Northminster Presbyterian this year. The church donates space and facilities in exchange for payment of utilities. Consequently, the GED classroom is very cold, and the students keep their jackets on most of the time.

"There are small amounts of money set aside for these programs," says Tom Fee, program manager of St. Louis County Youth Programs, which oversees Doors to Success. "The grants are drying up. It's catch as catch can."

Lamont Kollore and Andi Boyd sometimes literally drag their GED students out of bed.
Jennifer Silverberg
Lamont Kollore and Andi Boyd sometimes literally drag their GED students out of bed.

Details

Because the students are over the dropout age of sixteen, participation in the GED programs is voluntary, and most students hear about them through word of mouth. Doors to Success currently has a waiting list for its 30-member class.

Brittney Johnson began studying for her GED at Covenant House a year and a half ago at the urging of a friend, Tanisha Howe, known as Pooh, who was already in college at Harris-Stowe State University. For two years, the nineteen-year-old Johnson ignored the entreaties of her mother to return to school, but hearing it from Howe was different. "She was the first person who cared about me," Johnson recalls. "She was like, 'Come on, Brittney, be with me.'"

The adults at Covenant House and Doors to Success see themselves more as coaches and cheerleaders than stern authority figures. They don't have to deal with the same discipline problems that plague schoolteachers; they feel free to interact with students on a more human level.

Johnson believes her problems with school began when she was held back in second grade. Kristi Sobbe, Covenant House's advocacy director who has been listening to her tell her story, impulsively reaches across the table and puts her hand over Johnson's. "I was held back, too!" she says. "While you were talking, I wanted to say, 'Me too!' I wanted to say, 'It'll be OK.'"

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