Maurice Tramble expects to graduate with a high school diploma on June 11. His next goal: to own his own trucking company.
These are big dreams for a 40-year-old who has held a series of minimum-wage jobs since being released from Corcoran state prison 18 years ago. The stigma of four years in prison for armed robbery made it difficult to find a job that pays the bills, he said.
“There have been a lot of noodles for dinner,” said the father of five.
Tramble will graduate from Highlands Community Charter, one of the few charter schools in the state that serve adults. The tuition-free public school helps students older than 22 to earn their high school diploma, learn a vocation or improve their English language skills.
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Students spend half their day at the Del Paso Heights campus taking classes in entrepreneurship, truck driving, office skills and computer technology and programming.
“These types of programs are particularly important in impoverished neighborhoods with high dropout rates,” said Ward Allen, the school’s coordinator of career and technical education.
“If we don’t reach out to them, who will?” asked Allen. “Who is going to do anything for them?”
About 40 percent of the 300 students attending Highlands Community Charter have spent time in prison.
The makeup of the student body is no accident. The charter school’s staff works with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to identify probationers and parolees who need a diploma and job skills. The state agency pays the charter to serve these students, according to school officials.
“One of the main things about this school is that it helps reset people with colored pasts or just going through life attempting to make it with no results,” Tramble said.
In the year since the school opened, seven students have earned their diplomas. Another 32 are expected to graduate on June 11, according to school officials.
A total of 25 have earned Class A driver’s licenses, which allow them to drive a tractor trailer. Another 25 to 30 are expected to earn the license in July.
Earning a Class A license allows the holder to earn a living wage, about $16 to $25 per hour, Allen said.
Last Wednesday, Tramble and other Highlands students rotated among tables at a job fair where representatives of four companies were interviewing for truck driving jobs.
Trinity Fresh was among the companies recruiting drivers at the job fair. The growing Sacramento company needs 25 more drivers by the end of the year, said Mercy Ford, a company recruiter. Ford said being an ex-offender would not automatically disqualify a job applicant. Instead, she said, applicants are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Tramble was turning 40 and feeling desperate to make a change in his life when he thumbed through the phone book and found a listing for Highlands Community Charter.
“I knew if I actually just sat down and put my mind to it and came up with a plan and got connected with the right resources, I could do something with my life,” he said.
Tramble said he already has received calls from potential employers who have seen his student resume online.
Orelia Simmons, 53, heard about the school from parole officials. The former truck driver wants to earn her diploma and get a new license. She lost her truck driving license after she was incarcerated for 30 months for fighting with another woman in 2010.
Now, she wants to find a different path for herself and her 19-year-old daughter, who attends community college.
Simmons, homeless for most of her childhood, hasn’t attended school since fifth grade. She needs 85 units to complete her diploma.
She isn’t daunted. “I only knew adding and subtracting, and two weeks later I was doing algebra,” she said. “This school has really taught me I can learn.”