Isles Youth Institute

Building self-reliance through education, job training, and life skills

Isles Youth Institute (IYI) provides an opportunity for young adults in Trenton to earn a high school diploma, gain hands-on work experience, and transform their lives and their communities. Our program helps students develop crucial skills through educational courses, job training, life skills and leadership development, financial and health education, and service learning opportunities. At IYI, we foster an environment of support and respect to empower students and help them become conscious and self-reliant leaders in their neighborhoods.


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IYI students earn a New Jersey high school diploma by passing the High School Equivalence Test (HiSET). IYI coursework prepares students for all five sections of the test (Math, Science, Social Studies, Writing, Reading), and tutors provide additional academic support as needed. Our annual graduation ceremony caps off students time at IYI by celebrating their accomplishments and sending them along a new path!


IYI participants all complete a certification course in basic construction skills, and have the option to pursue additional certifications in more advanced construction areas, or in nursing and culinary arts. In addition to certification, all IYI students receive practice and support in resume writing, financial literacy, interview techniques, appropriate dress, application practice, and the importance of timeliness and attendance. When possible, IYI matches students in job experiences through shadowing opportunities, internships, and job placement opportunities.


All students have access to a full-time Case Manager who can refer social services to assist both students and their families. Case Managers also assist students with college applications, scholarship searches, and access to financial aid.


Youth take life skills classes and are provided with learning opportunities, which include relationship building, public speaking, and networking. In addition, IYI matches students with caring adult mentors from the Trenton community. Mentors help their mentees prepare for college and the workforce and also engage in recreational and community service activities with their mentees.

The Challenge

Isles started its Youth Institute in response to the declining level of educational achievement and the lack of opportunity for gainful employment for youth in Trenton. According to data from the NJ Department of Education as of the 2016-2017 academic year, the high school dropout rate in Trenton is 6.1% compared to 1.1% in all of New Jersey. Twenty-nine percent of young adults in the city do not have a high school diploma, while only 3.8% hold bachelor’s degrees. Low education levels make it difficult to attract employers that pay living wages, and even the students that graduate high school have a hard time figuring out what to do next. Only 30% of high school graduates in Trenton have started a form of secondary education, compared to over 60% of students across NJ, and the remaining students are largely undecided about their next steps.

Many of Trenton’s youth face additional obstacles to completing their high school education as well. Many get caught up in the juvenile justice system, some have family caretaking responsibilities, and some face housing and food insecurity. Too often, these young adults are not provided an opportunity or the support needed to achieve their dreams amidst these obstacles, and they are unable to achieve their potential due to environmental factors beyond their control.

Why IYI?

Isles Youth Institute aims to close these educational gaps and help students reach their goals. Our mission of “self-reliance through education” is accomplished through a multi-faceted approach to teaching that encourages leadership building and places the primary focus on student achievement for placement in post-secondary education, advanced vocational training, or career-oriented jobs. Our programming helps Trenton’s youth pursue their education, prepare for future careers, and grow into community leaders, gaining knowledge, training, and opportunities to lead to their long-term professional and personal success. Ultimately, by helping Trenton’s youth reach their goals and aspirations, we also hope to create leaders who will invest in their communities, creating a more sustainable city with a populace motivated and ready for positive change.

2021 Snapshot

33 certifications were earned in CPR/First Aid, OSHA, and Pre-Apprentice Construction Training (PACT.)

25 youth participated in our Love, Peace and Joy summer enrichment program.

15 IYI students participated in our social-distanced Summer and Winter Commencement Ceremony.