Lauren Hall used to be what her teacher calls a “floater.”
She was hardly ever in class. She had many study halls and even when she was scheduled to be in class she would find a way to get a pass to the bathroom, library, or cafeteria. She also admits that she frequently skipped her classes.
Last year her guidance counselor told Hall she didn’t have enough credits to graduate on time and at the rate she was going she would be in high school until she was 21.
Hall, 17, decided she wanted to leave school and enroll in a general education program where she could obtain her state high school equivalency diploma. When she heard that a new program was starting at Amsterdam High School she signed up and said it was the best move she could have made.
Hall is now scheduled to take the GED exam in June and, if she passes, she will be walking across the stage during this year’s graduation ceremony on the same schedule as the rest of her class.
Amsterdam High School’s new Alternative High School Equivalency Prep program began this year with $100,000 in state aid and was designed to combat the district’s low graduation and high drop-out rate, according to Stephanie Forsyth, director of student services and special education.
Students spend their days preparing for the GED exam, which includes science, math, social studies, reading and writing sections. The test takes two days to complete. Students usually take the exam, which begins Friday evening and continues Saturday morning, at Schenectady County Community College.
There is also a vocational and career planning aspect to the course in which students learn to prepare a resume, develop interview skills and learn about different career paths.
In its first year, the program has been consistently full. Thirty-three students enrolled in the program this year and over 80 percent of them have taken and passed the GED exam or are scheduled to take it by the end of the school year.
Students who have passed the test to earn their high school equivalency diploma will be allowed to participate in this year’s graduation ceremony scheduled for Saturday, June 28.
The program’s teacher, Marilyn Jones-Oliver, said 17 of her students are planning to attend the ceremony and it will be an emotional day for her.
“When they cross that stage I’m going to be so excited,” she said. “Man . . . I’ve laughed with these kids and I’ve cried with them.”
Students said the program’s success can be pinpointed to the hard work and dedication of the program’s staff, including Jones-Oliver; the program’s counselor, Barbara Floeser; and teacher’s aide Laurie Kielbasa.
“Ms. Jones and Ms. Kielbasa, they are really on you,” Hall said. “But it’s good because you can tell that they really care about us and they push us.”
Jones-Oliver said it is not unusual for her to call a student who isn’t in class and even to visit their homes to check on them.
“These kids just want to be cared for,” she said.
John DaVila, 18, said he wouldn’t have finished high school if it weren’t for the alternative program.
Floeser said DaVila struggled the entire year through the course and was about to give up. She pushed him to come back, but after a week of not seeing him she expected him to drop out.
The following week, DaVila was back in her office begging to be let back into the program. He had missed too many classes to be eligible to finish, but the administration allowed him to come back if he attended both the morning and afternoon sessions for a week to make up the classes he missed. Students in the program normally attend either a morning or afternoon session and are in school for two and a half hours, five days a week.
Attending both sessions meant DaVila went to school from 8 to 10:30 a.m., had a short break, and went back to class from noon to 2:30 p.m.
“He ate lunch in my office walked with me on the track and then sat in the classroom again,” Floeser said.
DaVila took his practice GED exam a few weeks ago and “blew it out of the water,” Jones-Oliver said. “He walks around like he’s seven feet tall,” she said. “Like, ‘I’m somebody.’ ”
Students said being in the class has given them confidence
“I feel successful,” Hall said. “I know that I’ve improved in my skills.”
Jennifer Colon, 19, said she likes being in the class because everyone is like her.
“We relate to each other, we help each other study and we get along well,” she said.
“It’s fun to be here,” Alisha Fontana, 18, said. “We get things done and the class provides more individualized attention.”
Floeser said all the students in the program are “little miracles.” She said they all are facing or have faced some sort of adversity and yet most are dedicated to the program and determined to finish high school.
“All of them have a story and circumstances,” Floeser said, “but they come to school every day and are committed to their education.
“I’ve never met more resilient and amazing people,” Jones-Oliver said.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Schenectady County