Idea would help Indiana high school grads who ‘don’t know what they want to do’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – One state lawmaker hopes to give Indiana’s youth another option after high school graduation.

Lea Ellingwood used to be an attorney. Now, she’s learning computer coding at Kenzie Academy.

“Not a stitch of coding before this,” Ellingwood said with a smile. “It was all brand-new.” 

She said she thinks the stuff she is learning for a new career could also help new high school grads.

“Affording younger people the opportunity to dip their toes in a variety of industries and try it out, I think is a really good idea and helps people find something they feel passionately about.” Ellingwood said.

That’s what Republican state Sen. John Ruckelshaus hopes to do. He filed a bill that would create a youth service program.

The selected high school graduates would spend nine months traveling around Indiana for hands-on training in agriculture, health care, manufacturing and technology, including possibly computer coding.

The Republican senator from Indianapolis said, “It’s going to be for those high school graduates who graduate from high school and simply don’t know what they want to do. Instead of marching off to college and being the next high student debt casualty, or dropping out of college, ‘Let’s take time out and learn the state’s economy.'”

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development would oversee the program. If approved, students would get a stipend of $1,000 a month, up to $9,000 total.

Ruckelshaus said, “It’s a good investment by the state of Indiana and it’s a good investment by corporations and educational institutions that’ll also be funding into this.” 

The program would encourage the students to stay in the state after graduation.

Emily Wattman-Turner, chief operating officer of the Kenzie Academy, said a shift is happening in post-graduation paths.

“For a long time, it was ‘Degree or bust,'” Wattman-Turner said. “I think you’re seeing both educators and students starting to realize other options are possible.”

Ruckelhaus’ son, Jay, helped his father create the idea for the bill. He said he was inspired by people who serve in Americorps. That’s part of the federal agency of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Jay Ruckelhaus said he thought about putting those students together to work alongside people they’d never otherwise meet.

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