‘…To better myself’

Warren Forest Hi-Ed allows students to fulfill the ‘goal of graduating’

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry A member of the Warren-Forest Higher Education Council Diploma Program graduating class of 2018 prepares to walk down the aisle at the Interfaith Chapel at Warren State Hospital.

For 10 years, the Warren Forest Higher-Education Council has been providing local students with opportunities to earn high school diplomas.

On Thursday, Dana Bailey, Carlie Colvin, Alyssa Hartman, and Amy Lewis received diplomas and congratulations from Warren Area High School Principal Jeff Flickner, Warren County School District administrators and board members, and the staff of the Hi-Ed Diploma Program.

They brought the total number of diploma program graduates to 68 over 10 years.

During the ceremony, Executive Director Joan Stitzinger talked about the positive strides made by previous graduates. “They’ve been promoted within existing jobs. They’ve gotten better paying jobs. Some have started college. Some have graduated college. Some of them have entered the military.”

During her graduation speech, Bailey said, “for whatever reasons, we all dropped out of high school. We all came back with the goal of graduating. Today, we are taking another step on the road to being successful.”

“It’s never too late to make a life choice.”

“I was in a different place,” Colvin said of her first time through high school. “When you don’t care about something, it’s hard to make an effort.”

It took her about 10 years to return. She gave the diploma program a chance because she was “getting older… caring about things I didn’t care about then,” she said. “It was a really different experience.”

“I started this program for the same reasons I imagine many people do when embarking on any kind of educational journey: for the betterment of myself and my life, as well as preparation for a certificate program or a two-year associates degree.”

“I was so scared when I first came into the diploma program.”

“In my mind, a GED wasn’t good enough,” Bailey said. “I wanted to have a physical diploma. That way, I can say I did graduate.”

“The Diploma Program started because we wanted to do something to enhance the GED,” Hi-Ed Program Director Donna Smith said. “Only 12 percent of people nationally that get a GED ever attain anything — degrees, certifications, anything — beyond that.”

Local employers had told Smith that many students with only GEDs were not prepared for the workplace.

She began working with Warren County School District. “They have been working with us and supporting us through the program,” Smith said.

To complete the diploma program, a student must have a GED. The course meets for three hours a night twice per week from September through April. In addition to 160 hours of instruction, each student must do 10 hour of community service, Smith said.

“These are women who want to improve their lives and the lives of others,” she said. “These women have chosen to be the heroines in their own lives.”

“Great people. Great teachers. An easy, flexible schedule,” Bailey said.

All of the students credited their instructors with helping to make their experiences positive and successful.

“They have helped me every step of the way.”

“They have seen potential in me that I never knew existed until they became a part of my support system.”

“I hope to provide the same kind of inspiring support I received here to others.”

“They give you hope of a bright future for yourself and have the hope for you when you can’t even find it for yourself.”

At the conclusion of the program, students walk away with a diploma, all of the certificates that they earn along the way, and a portfolio.

Asked how she felt after receiving her diploma, Lewis said, “Relieved. Accomplished. I never thought I’d have one.”

“I’m going to move on to college,” she said. “I want to be a drug and alcohol counselor.”

“It feels good,” Colvin said. “It feels good to accomplish any goal.”

“I’m very happy and pleased with myself,” Bailey said. “If things go accordingly, I should be starting Jamestown Business College in the fall.”

“I definitely would recommend the program,” Colvin said. “I think it’s a great resource for our community.”

“Hi-Ed has changed my life.”

“I do believe that this program has fundamentally changed the way I view myself, and what I am capable of, for the better.”

“I will strive to achieve what I previously thought I wasn’t capable of.”

“I’ve had to better myself, to not give up on my goals, and explore my options for the future.”

“I know that I am going to continue to grow.”

“I plan to start college within the next two years.”

“My main goal is to be a teacher who inspires students to be their best, learn to love themselves enough to make good choices in life, and come up with innovative ways to help kids enjoy learning.”

“Who knows what I will decide for the future, but at least now I have many more possibilities.”

Unattributed quotes were taken from letters written by the students before graduation.