Dealing with the regret of not earning a high school diploma can often be paralyzing. In today's world, where running full-speed-ahead is the norm, tripping over that traditional stone — for whatever reason — can seem like the end of everything.

Note: An in-depth look at how the Shawnee Adult Learning Center's program is quietly helping adults overcome the limitations of not having a high school diploma — by pulling that missed opportunity back into the realm of possibility, which ultimately impacts the state's ability to employ a more skilled workforce.

Dealing with the regret of not earning a high school diploma can often be paralyzing.

In today's world, where running full-speed-ahead is the norm, tripping over that traditional stone — for whatever reason — can seem like the end of everything.

And, as time mercilessly trudges forward, trying to get back on track can often seem like an impossibility.

Life is not going to pause for a recess; adulthood is now being spent wading through relationships, bills and endless appointments; add in the fear that it's much too late for a do-over and suddenly there's a perfect storm for making the already scary step of re-entering the educational process a truly daunting task.

But the weather is sunny and warm where a program for adults in Shawnee makes achieving that diploma attainable once again — no matter the cause or circumstances.

Shawnee Adult Learning Center (SALC) Director Charles Morgan said he understands what a difficult move it is, but also that it can be done — as long as the student wants it enough to do the work it will take.

“It's almost impossible to not get it, as long as you commit to doing it,” he said.

The years of study halls doesn't work, so that is not the approach SALC uses, he said.

Classes are not set up how people typically think of them, Morgan said.

“Think of it like it used to be in the old days of little red schoolhouses, where different grade levels were in the same room,” he said.

Everyone works at their own pace, he said, and it will take however long it takes to get the job done — together.

SALC teacher Kristi Barnett, who works with students in the Department of Human Service's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) system, said some students can get done in a month, while others may take a couple years or more.

As individual as the students are, it's hard to put a timeframe on finishing, but a typical rate of completion for many is around six months, Morgan said.

SALC's regular classes meet six hours per week — twice for three hours each day: morning classes are from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.; afternoons are from 12 noon to 3 p.m.; and night classes are generally from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Morgan said evening classes often fill up the quickest — especially for working parents with children.

Barnett said her TANF classes are full-time — six-hour days all week.

Whatever the schedule or pace, the program means more to people than just a piece of paper.

“Not having this document is a hurdle barring these adults from something else they are trying to get to,” Morgan said. “Whether it's a job or career, or a way to teach their children the importance of an education, overcoming this obstacle is life-changing.”

He said SALC's goal is to help its students leave with stronger skills and fewer stumbling blocks.

Barnett added getting that diploma is often a cycle-breaker.

“We have had three generations of the same family in here,” she said. “If we can get to one part of a family, we can help them all.”

The benefit doesn't just stop with the individual.

Dr. April Grace, Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent, said, “Anytime we can assist adults with becoming more equipped and self-sufficient by helping them gain important skills in literacy, math and writing while earning/obtaining their secondary school diploma it is a tremendous benefit to the community.”

The program may be a direct aide to adults needing another chance to gain that diploma, but ultimately its indirect effect is just as vital to those influenced most by the students — their children.

“As we all know, a parent is often the first teacher any child has,” Grace said. “So, as we assist adults in becoming more literate/educated, we are also helping our young people.”

This program allows Shawnee to contribute to helping adults gain the basic skills so they can be more productive citizens, Grace said.

“That productivity is positive for our community at large,” she said.

Though Shawnee's School District helps SALC with the use of its building at 1830 N. Beard, maintenance, etc., Morgan said the program itself is not a part of the state Board of Education anymore; it has actually been under CareerTech's umbrella the last couple years.

Change in funding

According to okcareertech.org, in 2014, the Oklahoma State Legislature voted to move the Adult Education-Lifelong Learning grant from the State Department of Education to the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. The Lifelong Learning Section of the Oklahoma State Department of Education (SDE) had been providing basic skill instruction for educationally disadvantaged adults since the late 1960s. On July 1, 2014, CareerTech picked up the baton to provide these services across the state. Adult Education is funded through the Workforce Investment Act.

According to the CareerTech site, in Oklahoma, 19 percent of the adults over the age of 25 have not finished high school.

“This statistic means a workforce unprepared for the sophisticated demands of the workplace,” the site states. “It also may mean that future generations will not place a high value on finishing their education. As adult educators, our mission is to ensure that these Oklahomans have the opportunity to be fully participating workers, parents and citizens in our state.”

Beware

CareerTech warns there are hundreds of websites offering high school diplomas, GED credentials and other degrees.

“What they don’t tell you is the accredited degree they’re offering is practically worthless,” the website states. “These sites are looking to make a quick buck at your expense, and they’re charging anywhere from $50 to $500 to do it.”

Legitimate tests

In the past, the GED test was the only option for states to measure a student's high school equivalent academic skills. However, in recent years several states have adopted alternative tests that enable them to provide low-cost testing options that are both accessible and meet their standards for a high school equivalency certificate, according to hiset.ets.org.

Since 2013, the HiSET exam from Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the TASC-Test Assessing Secondary Completion from McGraw-Hill Education CTB have been adopted by numerous states because they are more affordable and more widely accessible than the GED test.

For more than a year now, Oklahoma students have a choice of what test they take to earn a high school equivalency credential. Only a state or tribal education agency can grant a high school equivalency certificate.

Oklahoma has approved three different high school equivalency assessments: GED, HiSET and TASC. All three tests lead to the same Oklahoma certificate of high school equivalency.

Morgan said Oklahoma is one of the first states to have all three exams.

GED

According to the CareerTech website, the GED test changed in 2014.

The pencil and paper version of the GED test retired at the end of 2013 in Oklahoma and all of the United States.

The GED test is not online, the site states, and students must appear in person at an official GED testing center.

Barnett said the GED tests are more expensive and often require longer drives to take tests because there are fewer testing sites fully equipped with computer systems for the exams — the GED test is offered exclusively on computer.

Morgan said removing accessibility doesn't help.

“The changes in the GED test really caused many across the board to struggle more,” he said. “Having more options now is better.”

For more information, visit ged.com.

HiSET

The increasingly popular HiSET exam, developed by Educational Testing Service and Iowa Testing Programs, became a test option across the country in 2014 and is approved in 20 states and four U.S. territories. Scores measure high school equivalent skills and are accepted for college or job applications and the U.S. military. The test is offered in computer- or paper-delivered formats and is more affordable than previous options. For more information about the HiSET program from ETS, visit hiset.ets.org.

TASC

The TASC credential can be used to apply to a university, college or trade school; to apply for financial aid; to apply for a job; and to be considered for a promotion if already working. The TASC exam has been designed to be easily taken at all the test centers where any of the previous high school equivalency tests were administered. For more information and to find test center locations, visit TASCtest.com.

State requirements

To take the HiSET exam in the state of Oklahoma, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:

• High School Equivalency Status: You must not be enrolled, nor required to be enrolled, in high school, and you cannot have a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate.

• Age: If you are 18 years of age or older, you may test without any special conditions. If you are 16 or 17 years of age, you must complete a release form and submit it to the test center before scheduling an exam. No one under 16 may test.

• Residency: You do not have to be a resident of Oklahoma to take the HiSET exam.

• Test Preparation or Instruction: You are not required to take HiSET preparation courses before taking the test.

• Practice Test: Although taking a practice test prior to the exam is encouraged, you are not required to take it before taking the official exam.

• Identification: You must present a government-issued ID on test day at the HiSET test center. Outdated or expired ID will not be accepted. Acceptable identification includes: a valid driver's license; a valid state-issued picture identification card; passport; Military identification; or other forms of national or foreign government identification.

More about SALC

According to the Shawnee Public Schools website, at Shawnee.k12.ok.us, SALC:

• Currently has a minimum of one enrollment session scheduled each month.

• Pre-tests students during enrollment with the appropriate level of TABE (Tests of Adult Basic Education) Tests in Reading, Mathematics (Computation and Applied) and Language.

• Classes are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Classes also have a maximum number of seats available.

• Students come from all over the area, even surrounding counties.

• Teachers are certified by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“You can get your diploma for around $100,” Barnett said. “The tests themselves are the only cost in the program,” she said. “We would really like to get a grant or some businesses to help with scholarships for those who can't afford to pay for their tests.”

To sign up for classes or for more information, contact the SALC office at (405) 878-3101 or salc@shawnee.k12.ok.us. To visit the program's Facebook page, go to facebook.com/shawneealc.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.