ANDERSON, Ind. — About two dozen students in Elysse Hamlin’s English 2 class are struggling here on this cold winter morning — about 40 minutes outside of Indianapolis — to learn simple and compound sentences. It’s typically what is taught around seventh grade, but Marte’z Alexander is 20, Emily Spencer is 22 and Bernice Larson is 68. In fact, everyone in the class is over 18 years old.
These classmates have little in common except one thing: None of them completed high school. And the work sheets they were puzzling over don’t just represent dry grammar, but a second chance — at a high school diploma, a better-paying job, maybe college. A second chance to prove to their children and parents, and most important, to themselves, that they can shed the label high school dropout.
I dropped out of high school and got pregnant at 17. I went to like seven G.E.D. courses, but it was so hard. I have 25 grandkids — they’re my pride and joy, and my grandson needed help with algebra, and I couldn’t do it. That made me feel real bad.
When I first came here in 2015, I couldn’t do any of it. I was frustrated; I would just get mad at the teachers. I stayed away once about a week or so and said I’m not coming back, stop calling me. But I had to. The teachers and the coach would call me, and the coach would say, “Ms. Karen, don’t give up.” I’m a C.N.A. (certified nursing assistant), but I want to be a counselor for abused women. I wanted to be educated. Three of my children graduated from high school, three didn’t. One is going to school here with me.
Karen Johnson, 59, who graduated on Feb. 16 from the Excel Center at University Heights in Indianapolis.