Adults can earn a diploma without attending classes


Booted out of Dunbar High in the ninth grade, Jacquette D. Gibson wasn't going to blow a second chance to get her education.

The first time around, she admits, she was a lazy teen-ager who rarely attended school.

The second time, she was a model student, missing only one session with her adviser in a program that helps adults earn high school diplomas.

"I went through summer. I even went on my birthday," said Ms. Gibson, 20. "I felt like it was my last chance. I had to do something."

Last night, Ms. Gibson graduated from the Maryland Adult External High School Diploma Program. The program operates at Fairmount Harford Institute in Baltimore and at other locations in 13 counties.

Thirty-two people graduated from the program's Baltimore region this year. Ms. Gibson was among 14 graduates who marched down the aisle at Fairmount Harford Institute during a graduation ceremony last night.

They drew praise from Baltimore School Board President Phillip H. Farfell and Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who urged them to pat themselves on the back. And theydrew cheers from about 75 family members, friends and other supporters.

"Go, Mom!" someone shouted as Mary Armstrong approached the auditorium stage in her blue cap and gown, carrying a long-stem rose.

Kenneth Blount, another graduate, said it took him time to get his high school degree because he was "one of the worst procrastinators in the world."

Another graduate cried as she thanked family members and advisers who worked with her.

The program, implemented in Maryland in 1978, gives high school dropouts an opportunity to earn diplomas without taking G.E.D. tests or going to night school. It usually takes four to six months for students to complete the program, officials say.

"These people are in dire need to get a job or keep a job," said Dorothy M. Murphy, director of the program at Fairmount Harford. "Some of them are unemployed and some are underemployed. They know that a high school degree will help them get a job or advance."

In the External Diploma Program, students receive materials in basic subjects such as English and math each week. They return the materials the next week and discuss with advisers what they have learned. They also are tested.

Students can use life experiences to help them through the program, Mrs. Murphy said. Students must demonstrate their knowledge of 65 learning skills and a job skill.

There are no class meetings -- only the one-on-one visits with advisers.

"I think the program is geared toward meeting the needs of the working person," she said. "Many times a person does not have the time or the inclination to sit in a classroom."

Since its inception, 8,817 students have completed the program, said Mona Antonelli, an adult education specialist at the Maryland Department of Education. The numbers range from roughly 400 to 800 yearly, she said, compared withabout 5,000 G.E.D. recipients annually. There is a waiting list at most centers, she said.

The philosophy of the program is to ensure that graduates have the basic skills they need to live fulfilled lives. That means they must be able to write adequate letters and resumes, fill out job applications, perform basic math skills needed to balance checkbooks and handle other money matters and to be able to read graphs and maps.

The program stresses five points: consumer issues, community involvement, health care, occupational opportunities and government and law.

There's no algebra or calculus.

While enrolled in the program, Ms. Gibson faced such problems as converting ounces to cups and writing clear business letters.

She's a cashier at a supermarket who now hopes her second chance will lead her to college and a career as a registered nurse.

"I need a better job," Ms. Gibson said. "I'd just like to sit down and have a title and have some more money."

Another graduate who's gotten a second chance is Vanessa A. Griffin, 42, of Cherry Hill, who is recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism. She dropped out of Carver Vocational High at 17, when she was in the 10th grade.

"I came from a family of 11," Ms. Griffin said. "I was the oldest girl and I met this young man, and I decided to get married. That was my escape from the household. I moved on to drugs and alcohol."

She said her addiction started with prescription drugs and escalated to a number of drugs, including crack cocaine. The New Carmel Star Baptist Church and daily prayer "delivered me from drugs" three years ago, she said.

Ms. Griffin enjoyed feeling good about herself. She's a mother of two -- her son just graduated from Southern High and her daughter attends Baltimore City Community College -- and she knew a high school diploma would make her happier.

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