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Economic reality marries age-old idea of apprenticeship with college

Five-foot-two Jesica Bush exudes confidence, whether she’s scribbling notes in a 6:30 a.m. class at Bates Technical College here or wrestling 900-pound girders atop a mock two-story building, says the Hechinger Report. With her blond ponytail tucked inside a brown hardhat, the 30-year-old is an apprentice with the ironworkers’ union, a job that starts at nearly $25 an hour and will lead her in three years to both a journeyman’s card and an associate degree. Three years back, Bush sat in the state women’s prison in Purdy, finishing seven and a half years for an armed-robbery conviction. The former addict dropped out of school in seventh grade–”Me and school, we never saw eye to eye,” she says–was convicted of her first felony at 13, had a child at 15, and was sent to prison at 19. But when it took her just six months to complete her GED in Purdy, the instructors asked her to be valedictorian at the graduation ceremony and to start thinking about college. When she got a chance to fight fires with a prison brigade instead of cleaning toilets, she jumped on it and made the discovery that “I loved hard work. I’d never worked a day in my life…

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