Jeremy Hardie will be making his own sandwiches from now on.

The Moncks Corner 19-year-old graduated from Berkeley High School on Friday and will start working full-time in the woodworking department at Quoizel in Goose Creek.

He’s worked there part-time for two years through a Berkeley County School District program for students with disabilities.

“Now that he’s graduating, that’s another responsibility: Pack your own lunch from now on,” said his mother, Tracy Hardie, who also works at Quoizel. “While he was a student, I took care of him, but now he’s going to have to take care of himself.”

Jeremy is one of 28 graduates in the county who earned a Bridges Occupational Credential instead of a South Carolina High School Diploma. Thirteen of them, Jeremy included, will also get a credential from ACT WorkKeys, certifying competence in an academic, social and occupational curriculum.

Berkeley is the only county to offer the diploma alternative for students with disabilities, said Kelly Wulf, district Director of Programs for Students with Disabilities.

“This program is about their ability, not their disability,” she said. “Our kids are so talented. Some of it may not be book talents, but this program is trying to find where their talents are.”

Typically, students who are unable to earn a state diploma have two options: a certificate of attendance or an occupational diploma. Since 2004, Berkeley County has offered its own occupational diploma, the Bridges Employability Credential.

“What we found is that when they were leaving, although they had a credential in Berkeley County, it wasn’t necessarily credentialed from the business world,” said Wulf. “Our kids felt like they were leaving with a piece of paper. Our dropout rates for students with disabilities when they turned 17 were soaring. We had to do something.”

The WorkKeys component was added this year.

To participate in the program, students have to be passing core classes; complete a Career & Technical Education course; earn a satisfactory Employability Rating; have a minimum fourth-grade reading level; and pass the WorkKeys employment assessment.

It saved Jeremy, Hardie said.

“Jeremy would have dropped out had this not been available,” she said. “His question would be, ‘Why should I stay in school when I can go out and make money?’ It has really helped him tremendously knowing that he’s not getting that piece of paper that he wants, but he is walking out of there with something valuable.”

Jeremy learned how to create a resume, fill out applications and interview. He also completed an auto technician course in the Career and Technical Education program.

“It taught me that you can’t be late,” he said. “You’ve got to use proper language. You have to be able to do mathematics, and get along with people and not fight and bicker with them.”

During the school year, Jeremy worked at Quoizel from 7 to 11 a.m. and went to classes in the afternoon. District employment specialists help students find jobs.

“He realized the job was very important,” Hardie said. “He became very responsible. It helped him to grow up, basically. He realized what life is going to be like after school. “

About 40 employers in the Lowcountry use WorkKeys as part of their hiring process, said Jamie Wood, Workforce Development Director for the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments. And when companies consider locating in the area, they want to know what the potential workforce can offer.

“If students are taking the WorkKeys test and getting the credential, that just puts them one step ahead when applying for jobs,” Wood said. “One thing we see with young folks coming in is if they are able to show those credentials, then they can quickly pick up positions companies are looking to fill.”

Now that students have seen how the program works, several more are interested in participating next year, Wulf said.

“This has brought back to our kids ‘I can leave here with something,’ and that’s how you keep them in school,” she said. “Our job is not to get them to graduation. Our job is to get them to be successful when they leave school. We can’t change what the state will do, but we can change in Berkeley County what we will do for our kids.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or facebook.com/brindge.