At long last, sisters satisfy lifelong hunger for learning


The Kelly sisters have always had spunk. Now they're smart, too.

Not that they weren't smart before they went back to high school, but with diplomas on the wall, they're not afraid to give an opinion, offer a suggestion, tell a story.

High school has emboldened them.

"I like the whole world now. It's all mine. I've just got to figure out what to do with it," said Sharon A. Franklin, 47, of Reisterstown, the youngest Kelly sister.

"I feel confident now," said her sister, Patricia L. Dietz, 49, of Lineboro.

Friday, the sisters celebrated their accomplishments at a recognition ceremony at Westminster High School. About 60 adults who earned high school diplomas this year participated.

The nontraditional graduates did all of the traditional things. They wore black caps and gowns, marched to "Pomp and Circumstance," posed for a class picture and fidgeted as officials spoke.

Carroll Superintendent of Schools R. Edward Shilling congratulated them on their achievement.

"Many folks sitting here tonight have had some difficult roads to travel. I am very proud to be a part of this," he said.

Graduate Sandra White, 28, of Hampstead said earning a high school diploma was an important goal for her.

"It has built up my self-confidence tremendously," she said. "It takes a lot of courage to go back to school, but you can do anything you put your mind to."

Tomorrow the oldest Kelly sister, Bonnie M. Jackson, 53, of Rosedalebegins her second week as a returning high school student. She didn't want to be the only sibling without a diploma.

When she finishes, she hopes to study to become a tugboat captain or a fishing guide. Mrs. Franklin wants to be an outdoors writer. They both fished professionally on a national competitive circuit three years ago.

Mrs. Dietz is interested in computer programming and working with machines.

Earning high-school diplomas has boosted their morale, Adam Franklin said of his wife and her sister. "I can see a change in both of them. They're more interested in doing other things now," he said.

"I'm really proud of her. She's really come out of her shell," said Mrs. Franklin's 22-year-old daughter, Sharri, who graduated this spring from Towson State University. "She's tackling everything, and she doesn't ask my opinion anymore."

Mrs. Dietz and Mrs. Franklin completed the external high school diploma program, which allows people 18 or older to go back to school without returning to the classroom.

Participants, most of whom are women about 40, meet once a week with a supervisor who gives them homework assignments and questions them in 64 areas, said Jeanne Clark, regional director for the program.

The program is self-paced and emphasizes skills people learn in life, she said. Participants study first aid, nutrition and balancing 3/8 3/8 TC a checkbook, as well as fractions, government and the environment.

Students have up to 10 months to finish, but the work can be done in about four months, Mrs. Clark said. About 75 percent of those who finish the external program go on to college, she said.

Carroll County has offered the program for about five years, she said.

The sisters come from an East Baltimore family of five children, all of whom quit high school in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some of their children later quit, too.

Mrs. Dietz; her sister, Barbara G. Kelly; and her brother, Donald Kelly,quit school about the time their mother died of cancer, Mrs. Dietz said. They went to work and gave most of their earnings to their father, who worked as a cemetery superintendent.

"We were really needed at home. We were more or less a help to him by dropping out and helping with the finances," said Mrs. Dietz, who started at a dry cleaners and later worked as a dance instructor, grocery store cashier and credit office manager for a jewelry store.

She now works the night shift in the production department at the Carroll County Times.

Ms. Kelly, 50, of Lineboro and Mr. Kelly, 52, now of Florida, also returned to school to earn diplomas.

Mrs. Dietz said she lied to employers about having a high-school diploma. "I knew I could do it [the work]," she said.

Mrs. Jackson said, "I never lied about it, but I always skirted the issue." She now works part time doing production work at the Times.

Mrs. Jackson said she quit school in the 10th grade because she wanted to earn money. A lot of her peers were doing it, she said.

Mrs. Franklin quit school after a counselor told her she had to take home economics in the 10th grade instead of art.

She liked art and thought home ec was a waste of time. She now helps her husband, who is superintendent at the Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery.

Mrs. Jackson said her two sons, Jimmy, 29, and Michael, 26, dropped out in the 10th grade. She hopes they will return to school soon because she would like to attend the recognition ceremony with them next spring. Her 28-year-old daughter, Kelly, dropped out as a sophomore, but returned a year later.

Mrs. Dietz's 29-year-old son, Brian, also left school. She said she's trying to persuade him to return.

"I was so sorry when I quit. It didn't hit me till a few months later. I didn't realize I could go back," she said.

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