Two separate programs are being offered this fall to help teens displaced from a polygamous community at the Utah/Arizona border get their high school diplomas.
Both Mohave Community College and the Washington County School District are offering GED classes tailored to the so-called "Lost Boys" - though administrators expect girls to sign up, too.
Hundreds of teens, mostly boys, have fled the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., which is home to The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect, led by Warren Jeffs, follows a 19th century version of Mormonism that prescribes a rigid lifestyle that includes plural marriage.
Some teens left home after becoming disillusioned with the FLDS faith; others were kicked out by family or church leaders for rebellious behavior or, some say, because they are viewed as competition for potential wives.
The estimated number of teens displaced in recent years varies greatly, with some putting the figure at 300 and others at 700.
Whatever their reasons, the teens have ended up in communities such as St. George, Hurricane and La Verkin and, farther away, the Salt Lake Valley. Most are equipped with little more than a ninth-grade education but possess a solid work ethic that has enabled them to get jobs, particularly in construction.
"Many of them were denied schooling early in their lives and put to work, so they need educational help and literacy work," said Brian Cheesman, director of adult education for the Washington County School District.
Cheesman got to know about 20 of the teens last year at monthly get-togethers organized by a couple of businessman who had left the FLDS community. About seven teens attended GED classes last year - one of whom graduated, Cheesman said. The teens left as spring came around and construction work picked up.
He expects some to return this fall. The district charges a $1 registration fee and is willing to pay the $65 test fee for any teen who successfully completes a minimum of 12 hours of work and passes a pretest.
This year, the district has offered to hold a separate GED class, focused on computer skills, math and literacy, if it gets 10 to 15 teens to sign up. Otherwise, students will be integrated in an existing class. So far, just one teen has signed up.
Some of the teens may already be attending district programs, offered in conjunction with Dixie State College, but haven't identified themselves as Lost Boys, Cheesman said.
Susan Hammon, dean of the North Mohave Community College campus in Colorado City, has hired an instructor who formerly belonged to the FLDS community, and who is familiar with the teens' backgrounds, to teach its new GED class.
"We realized that getting them started in their education was the best way to help them out," Hammon said
About 10 teens, ranging in age from 15 to 18, came to a barbecue the college held as a prelude to starting its free Saturday morning class. The program, which is being offered for the first time to FLDS teens, will run from Saturday until Dec. 10.
"They all have good work ethics and most have jobs," Hammon said. But, "they have very poor academic skills from what we have seen and they are embarrassed by that."
Hammon said a few teens, whom she prefers to call survivors rather than Lost Boys, are living in the nearby twin cities with their families but "have nothing to do with the social structure in the community. They are adrift socially."
Yet, many don't want to leave their families or homes. "People want to move them off and get them educated, and they get homesick," she said. "I like the idea of helping locally if they want to stay local."