As the mother of three kids, I have learned a tough lesson: No two children are the same.

My middle child is a senior in high school this year. I should be a seasoned professional by now, as his older sister graduated four years ago. Sadly, I have found myself completely unprepared. Their experiences are not even remotely similar.

The oldest was “done” with the high school experience somewhere in her junior year. Seriously struggling academically the first two years, she found herself in a self-study classroom to make up credits. For whatever reason, this environment really worked for her. She soon discovered she could complete her high school credits early, take college courses concurrently, and only had two courses left her senior year. She finished those at the learning center, enrolled full-time in college, and graduated high school with 30 college credit hours.

Conversely, my son has experienced high school in the traditional way. He will attend classes on campus until graduation in May 2020. He will have very few college credit hours upon graduation, but walks across the stage with life experiences from sports, activities and a social network.

This is campaign time for Harvey County United Way. Throughout the fall months, we present at employee meetings of area companies in support our annual campaign. Most of the time, the employees politely nod, sometimes clap, and ask a few questions.

My favorite memories, though, come from the rare one-on-one interactions after the presentations. It is in those moments where I truly learn about the needs of the community. It is in those moments when my passion re-ignites for the mission of this organization.

Recently, following a presentation with long-time volunteer Mel McAnulty at a manufacturing firm, a woman approached me personally asking how a young person could complete his high school diploma. Armed with only vague knowledge of the local resources, I took her number and offered to do some research.

First call was to Jeni Herman, director of the Harvey County Learning Center by ESSDAK (located upstairs in Cedar Village in Newton, 804-7140). Jeni said they do offer high school diploma completion opportunities for adults, but first I needed to learn more about the young man. Students at the Harvey County Learning Center must be age 18 or older and from a cohort class which has already graduated. Stumbling a bit on this new term “cohort class,” I now understand that means which year the rest of his classmates graduated.

She went on to explain that they offer both on and off site instruction, with self-paced computerized curriculum. While it is not a traditional classroom setting, they do find students benefit from the on-site experience interaction with instructors and fellow learners.

My second call was to the Hutchinson Community College Adult Learning Center (located at the Axtell Learning Center in Newton, 283-7000). Stan Ploutz helped me understand the differences between the two programs and to dispel some of my long-held misconceptions.

Stan explained that the HCC Adult Learning Center offers much more than just GED completion. “We provide adult education and career training, with the overarching goal to complete high school equivalency,” Stan said. Instruction is covers all the concepts in the common core, particularly increasing skills in math, reading and writing. Additionally, they teach to career readiness, and “the test is normed in that direction,” Stan said.

According to the website, students must be 16 or older and not enrolled in high school. Surprisingly, students with a GED/high school diploma may even enroll to “build skills in math, reading, or writing to meet employment or training needs.” The program offers face-to-face teaching and encouragement. As an added bonus, they offer accelerated opportunities where a student enroll in college concurrently, making me think of my daughter’s experience in high school.

I asked if there was a stigma by local employers, affecting the employment possibilities for adults holding a GED (instead of a high school diploma). Stan said, “Not as much as we used to, but it’s still there.” He explained that GED should really be termed “high school equivalency,” as the curriculum makes those holding a GED college ready.

The third option is USD 373 Opportunity Academy (located on the Emberhope campus in Newton, 284-6590). Running out of room in this column to do it justice, I will share more information from principal Tyler Swalley in the future.

Briefly, Opportunity Academy is a new optional program for USD 373 students, incorporating trauma-informed personalized learning via online learning and direct instruction. According to the website, they “strive to build healthy, positive relationships with our students, parents and staff while building a culture of respect for all and self-advocacy for our students.”

If you know of someone ready to pursue a high school diploma or equivalency, please consider sharing these valuable local resources.


— Tina Payne is director of the Harvey County United Way. She can be reached at 316-283-7101.