One step at a time toward a future: "There is no way I can fail"

A high school graduation for teens is a rite of passage into adulthood. For adults like John Albiar, who left school in the 8th grade, graduation was never an option.

John, now 35, after earning his high school equivalency diploma, and the student speaker in the Collierville Literacy Council’s graduation ceremony held at Central Church on July 20, 2019 said, “I never would have thought two years ago that I would standing here with the life that I have now,” he said.

John Albiar gives his student commencement address to the 2018-2019 Graduating Class of the Collierville Literacy Council

John grew up in Flint, Mich., where he had a difficult family life. He failed sixth and seventh grade before dropping out and working two to three jobs. He struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and jail time, but his father set an example of a high work ethic. “He couldn’t read or write, but he said that no matter what happens, we can’t just give up. He would get up every day and work hard at his construction job. I wanted to be like that.”

He found a job at a restaurant, and realized he had to make a change. “I knew that if I stayed there, that I would end up dead or in jail,” he said.

He moved to Memphis, transferring with the restaurant chain where he was a server. “I was serving people who had good lives, and I couldn’t go anywhere because I didn’t have the paper, even though I had all this experience. I wanted to sound like I knew something and be a candidate for a better job.”

He explored options for getting his diploma, but didn’t feel comfortable enough in locations to continue. “I had so much shame and doubt, and I kept thinking ‘oh, I’m old and I’m stupid’, and I couldn’t stick with all of the testing that I had to do,” he said.

“My partner encouraged me to look at the Collierville Literacy Council,” he said. “I decided if this place was like the others, then I was just destined to never have my diploma. But everyone wanted to be here and wanted me to succeed.”

The HiSET test consists of a battery of five tests – math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. John took his tests throughout November 2018, and received his scores. “I just knew I didn’t pass,” he said. “So I kept putting it off until January, when I opened the mail. I couldn’t believe that I actually passed.”

Now enrolled at Southwest Community College, he is taking it one step at a time toward a future. “I haven’t been in school in so long, and I still have that anxiety and fear, but there is no way I can fail, because I know more today than I did yesterday.”

John Albiar accepts his completion certificate for his diploma

The Collierville Literacy Council meets students where they are in their experience; some have experienced trauma at home, in their school, or in their community. Some have hidden learning challenges, or mental and emotional illnesses that pushed, pulled or caused them to fail out of school. You can learn more about the statistics of dropout rates and self-reported reasons at the National Dropout Prevention Center and Sage Journal.

Students who come for their diploma, like John, talk about their anxiety over testing, and shame over not staying in school. Students who left school because they didn’t feel comfortable or welcomed in school often struggle most with testing. To earn the high school equivalency diploma, students must pass a battery of five tests with the HiSET test.

In 2018, the Collierville Literacy Council worked with 800 HiSET students, and 253 students passed their HiSET test. More than 60 percent of students took at least one portion of the test within a year of visiting the Council.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, individuals who have not earned their high school degree stand to earn far less than individuals who have earned their high school diploma, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or other advanced degrees or training opportunities.

In fact, statistics show that high school graduates make, on average, over $7,000 more per year than workers who did not complete high school. Additionally, workers who have an associate’s degree make about $7,000 more per year than those with a high school diploma. With reduced wages, pay, and benefits, individuals who do not graduate from high school are at a considerable economic and social disadvantage.  high school diploma or equivalency, as well as some college coursework is necessary.

From the National Center for Education Statistics

Furthermore, even when a high school dropout earns his or her high school equivalency diploma, the struggle to find a good paying job still exists as many jobs today – even entry level jobs – require at least some college coursework, if not a completed associate’s degree. As a result, many high school equivalency diploma earners and educational leaders assert that community colleges must boost their programs to more substantially support students with a high school equivalency diploma. In so doing, community colleges ensure two things: first, they open otherwise closed doors to educational opportunities for students who did not complete high school; secondly, they increase the number of students obtaining necessary and relevant training to enter today’s workforce. The result: more people with good-paying jobs. With this access to higher education, students attending community college programs with their high school equivalency diploma will be able to pursue career pathways that are substantially more sustainable, profitable, and potentially more rewarding.

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