Living life without a high school diploma is a path many teenagers in Michiana are choosing to take. In some cases, four out of ten students are not graduating. Educators and legislators alike are saying this is a crisis.
Depressing, disastrous, and dull are some of the words dropouts use to describe their life without a diploma. Karen Williams knows that first hand. The 39-year-old mother of four was unemployed for two years. Now, she has a difficult job and it's not one that pays money.
Williams has entered the classroom again, this time at the Opportunity Center in Benton Harbor. It's a task Karen believes will have a rewarding payoff, something better than any paycheck she has ever received. She is in a quest for the diploma that has eluded her for over twenty years. Williams became pregnant while she was attending Benton Harbor High School. After leaving school, she never became motivated to return to the classroom.
Now, Williams has that motivation. Hitting the books at the Opportunity Center, Williams says, “I love waking up in the morning and knowing I’ve got to come here. It’s just been really wonderful.”
Life has not been so wonderful over the years. Karen Williams says the best job she could land as a high school dropout was at Holiday Inn Express cleaning rooms.
Williams recalls being asked about a high school diploma on job interviews. She said the interviewer would often say, “We’ll give you a call. Then, you never get that call and it’s hurtful.”
With a high school degree, she says she will come back to do bigger and better things at a hotel. She has aspirations to manage or possibly even own a hotel at some point.
Rose Hunt Redd says that not setting goals as a teen contributes greatly to this the dropout dilemma.
She feels that three more facilities like the Opportunity Center, will be just a start to fixing this dropout crisis. In just five months, over 300 adults have walked through the doors without a high school degree.
In 25 to 30 years, a dropout student can cost a community as much as 500,000 dollars in public assistance, health care, and incarceration costs.
With even a 5% increase in male graduation rates in Indiana, the state’s economy would benefit by almost 152-million dollars. Michigan stands to gain nearly 280-million dollars.
Figures like this have South Bend Community School Corporation Superintendent Dr. Bob Zimmerman encouraging the teachers in his district to teach goal-setting and use interactive lessons that connect with today’s generation. “Obviously," he says, "we believe that pathway has a strong impact on completing school. If you don’t complete school, you’re going to have a hard time completing your achievement of goals in life.”
Teachers also report that parents are not getting involved in the education process.
Karen Williams wishes she had the experience to help her own kids with homework. She says, "It was really hard because I really couldn’t help. I take all the work home and I don’t understand and my kids help me through it.”
2008 will be a big a big year for the Williams family. Karen will be getting her G.E.D. and her son Tremayne will graduate from Coloma High School.
Williams says having something to look forward to makes life worth living.
The dropout dilemma is not being ignored. NewsCenter16 placed several calls to the Department of Education in both Indiana and Michigan.
Indiana did respond by saying that legislation has been passed recently to raise the dropout age to 18. There is also a dropout prevention task force and a dropout recovery project.
WNDU has documentation from the Indiana Department of Education on what they are going to fight the problem. Just click on the “Fight Against the Dropout Dilemma” document at the top of the story.