Overcoming Statistics: How I got my HS Diploma

I have a secret.  It's a deep, dark secret that I have carried with me for 17 years.  One that I do not like sharing for fear that I would be judged. 

I'm a high school drop out.

There.  My secret is out.

I've hesitated about writing this post, but I feel that the information I can provide to others in my position far outweighs my fear of shame and embarrassment.

The statistics of former foster children are staggeringly against their favor.  I found this excerpt from a website called Headquarters of Hope:

"A study conducted by The League of Women Voters found that 40-50% of former foster youth became homeless within eighteen months of exit from foster care. 

In studies by the Casey Foundation, former foster youth have shown twice the incidence rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than that of U.S. war veterans.

Another Casey study, found that 70% of teens who emancipate from foster care report that they want to attend college, but less than 50% complete their high school graduation and fewer than 10% of who graduate from high school enroll and college, and of those enrolled less than 1% graduate from college.

Lastly, a study conducted by the Chapin Hall Center for Children found that 25% of former foster youth will be incarcerated within the first two years of emancipation.

Although these statistics are shocking and paint a dismal future they don’t even come close to detailing the despair and hopelessness experienced by many former foster youth post-emancipation."

Those are pretty upsetting statistics.  I am proud to finally say that I have been fortunate enough to avoid all of those circumstances, except the statistic about education.  Until now.

The story behind me dropping out of high school is this:

I was in foster care.  I moved 8 times just in the time I was in high school.  During one of my placements, I was back at Hillcrest waiting for a home to open up.  With my history of bouncing from home to home and poor bonding, I was stuck in a temporary placement for several months.   This hindered my advancement.   I later reunited with my family over the summer and moved in with my Grandfather who lived out of state.  This happened over the summer.  When we went to register for school, they told me I had missed too much school to even be allowed to go.  I would have to take night courses to make up for the time missed, or go to an alternative high school.  I was so frustrated.  I loved school and having friends.  I felt robbed.  I was angry and decided to take some time to think things through.  I ended up getting a job at a hotel (in Vegas) and the pay and benefits were great so I decided to keep working.  In the process, I discovered that checking "High School Graduate" on my application worked well for me because no one ever really checked.

So I went through life as a self proclaimed High School Graduate.  It worked well for me. No one judged me for being a drop out and I felt justified for lying about being a graduate because I was essentially robbed.  I didn't willfully drop out, (I did) I really didn't have a choice (I did).

Even now, admitting that I did willfully drop out, and that I had a choice is hard.  I want to stick up for myself.  I want to say it wasn't my fault.  The only thing I can say in my defense is that at the time I did not know my options.  I did not know I could get my GED.  I did not know I could go to Adult Ed and get my diploma.  I pretty much assumed that if I didn't go to night school or alternative high school, that I would not be able to graduate. 

So life went on.  I worked.  I got married.  I had three sons.  A family of my own.  Life was good.

For the past 3 years I have been a stay at home mom.  Not too long ago, I decided that it would be better for my family to go back to work.  I would like to bring in some income and help pay off debt.  I would also like to have my toddler socialized with peers his own age.  I also miss having a rigorous schedule, as we all seem to function better that way. 

I came across an awesome job opportunity.  It is in the medical insurance field and I know that is one area that hasn't been hurt by the economy.  I was really excited about this job, and I got it!!  Yay me!!

Then, they checked my schooling.  I found myself having to come face to face with that deep, dark secret I had tried so hard to forget.  It was awful to have to go to this wonderful company and admit that I had lied to them.  I am not that kind of person.  But yet, I was.

The funny thing about this experience is that this job literally was an answer to a lot of my prayers.  The pay was more than I have ever made in the past, the company is a place where I can grow and learn, they give you full paid training and expect training to take well over a year.  I would have had 3 weeks paid vacation, full benefits, and so much more!   I felt all along that God was helping me.

So why didn't I get the job? 

Would God have wanted me to lie?

So I came to the realization that I needed to do it His way.  I looked into getting the GED.   I went to a local college here and attended the orientation for the GED.  Here is what I learned:

The orientation is 8 hours long, broken into 2 days where you do pretesting and figure out where you are for taking the test.

The test is $60.00 and is broken into subjects.

If you fail a part of the test you have to retake it, but you wait 90 days before you can retake the test.  You also incur the fee for that portion of the test again.

(The GED rules and fees are different with every state)

I did very well in most subjects but I needed help with my math.  The college has a learning library where you can go and study, and there are 2 tutors who walk around and help people with their work.  This is a free service.  It sounded great, except for the few times I went to the library, there was a lot of people there and it was hard to get one on one attention.  I needed a lot of help in Math and I found myself more frustrated because I felt like no one could really help me.

I bought booklets, and did work with a CD program from home.  Still, I wasn't getting it. 

Frustrated, I'd put the books away and quit for a few weeks, then pull them out only to be more confused. 

I wanted to bang my head against the wall.

One day, when I was driving by the local high school and the thought occurred to me that there may be some program through the school district that allows high school students who have not finished school to get their diploma.  So I called and left a message with the principal.  Within a day, he returned my call and told me that indeed, there is a program through the Adult Education classroom.  He connected me with the teacher there and I agreed to meet her the next day.

During my meeting with the teacher, I was in tears.  They were happy tears.

The program was free, in exchange for 8 hours of community service.
I could take work books home and work on the pretests and worksheets there.
After looking at my transcripts, I had plenty of credits in Math so I did not have to worry about that subject.
I could easily be a graduate within a matter of weeks.

I couldn't believe how easy this all sounded.

I worked hard to complete all the tasks.  I only spent a couple hours each day going through the books at home, and a few hours each week at the school taking tests.  One by one, the subjects got checked off and I had passed with flying colors. 

One day I received a text from my friend who works at the company where I had applied for a job.  The same position that I had applied for was opening up.  She told me her boss had asked if I had completed my schooling yet.  I had only 2 more tests to take and I would be done.  I thought how amazing the timing was!

I completed my tests, did my community service at the local Goodwill and was a graduate the following week!

I finally did it!!!

And, it was easy!

Which was kind of sad.  I mean, I had let all this time pass.  17 years!  I could have done this a lot sooner, had I taken the time to look into it instead of pretending it wasn't an issue.

Based on my experience, I would hands down recommend trying to earn your diploma over taking the GED.  Having a diploma is looked at more favorably by employers and if you want to join the armed forces, you need to have a diploma.  

The GED is also a great option, but I felt much more comfortable in the adult education setting.  I had a teacher on hand to answer my questions and work with me when I got stuck.  I also didn't have to pay any fees to get my diploma.

So if you are an adult and you haven't graduated High School, no matter how old you are, I recommend looking into your local high school for information on how to obtain your diploma.  All they need is your information so they can look at your transcripts.  Once they have your transcripts, they will tell you what you need to do in order to complete your credits.  Even if you missed 2 or 3 years, it will not take long to earn your diploma.  Just a little drive and determination!

If getting your GED sounds more appealing, you can check with the local school district or college to find out what you need to get started.

I highly recommend that you look into both options and choose the one you are most comfortable with.

On another note, if you are a former foster youth, and you are less than 25 years of age, there are scholarships available to you!  So get on this!!  You don't want to be like me at 35 and wondering why there are no scholarships for people my age! 

Here are some sites that are helpful for finding scholarships if you are a current or former foster child:

Kids Matter (in Milwaukee, WI) has info on finishing and continuing your education
United Friends of the Children has a great list of scholarships available and how to qualify
Fostering Change has a list of scholarships for San Diego and CA based foster children.
CollegeScholarships.org has a list of scholarships available nationwide
Michigan.gov (Foster Youth In Transition) has a list of scholarships available to african-americans (Nationwide)

Please google for scholarships in your area.  There are so many for foster kids under the age of 25.  A college education is a sure way to secure your future, so I hope you take the time to look into this!

Don't be a statistic!!

On the job front, I recently interviewed for the position and I am currently going through the process, hoping to get hired!  I will keep you posted!  I have a good feeling, as like I said, I think I had a little guidance along the way!


jules said...

That is awesome! My hubby dropped out of school to help support his family. (his dad left a few years earlier) He has wanted to get his GED many many times in the past but it seems impossible with him being gone in the semi. He hasn't talked about it for years, I don't know if he is still interested.....

Ami said...

I think it's really important to point out that a high school diploma or GED is not an indicator of your worth or your intelligence.

But being straightforward and not lying to a potential employer? That really is. A mark of integrity.

And congratulations to you for sticking with it and meeting a goal.

Tamara Dawn said...

I understand your point, Ami. On the other hand, I had to work. My mentality at the time was that people would shun me for being a drop out. I felt I had to lie, otherwise I wouldn't get hired. When the background check company contacted me, they told me they were having trouble finding my transcripts. I didn't continue lying, I apologized and told them that I did not graduate. I felt bad for wasting everyone's time and apologized.

I do wish that I was called out sooner, as this is what it took for me to pursue my diploma after all these years.

I'm so grateful that the company is nice enough to give me a 2nd shot. I hope to find out this week *fingers crossed*

DeeJay said...

Tamara -- what a story! You share your thoughts so clearly. And I don't think that I need to tell you that this wasn't just about getting your GED... it really was the whole journey. And seeing God, the Giver of all good gifts, at work in your life.

Best blog post I've read in a long time. Thanks so much.


Penelope said...

Congrats!!! Job well done! you are an inspiration!