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Adult High School offers students a second chance

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Making plans for the new school year that began this week are, clockwise from left, Adult High School teachers and staff Kristi Galligan, Patti Huffman, Principal Mary Ashby, Blake Hall and Joy Shaw. Not pictured is school secretary Vikki Adkins. The Adul

Ex-dropouts get help earning diploma

It's no secret, adult learners can earn a diploma at Wilson County's Adult High School, which offers a much-needed second chance to get the high school diploma they missed the first time.

Whether the diploma is needed to enter the military, enter college or vocational school, get a promotion at work, get a job to begin with, or simply for the personal satisfaction of earning the diploma, the Adult School can help.

Explains Principal Mary Ashby, who was a graduation coach for Lebanon High School before she came to the Adult School, "This is for dropouts who still need a few credits. The GED is mostly for older adults, but some of them come here, too."

'Rebuilding lives'

Basically, Ashby adds, the program allows adults to correct a mistake they made and get better jobs and education.

And each year, the program hands diplomas to a growing number of Wilson Countians. "Our goal is to have fewer adults with no diplomas and to work with graduation coaches to improve the county's graduation rate," Ashby says.

The program works with "hardship students" to help them not only get a diploma, but they also help them gain the confidence to do well in their lives.

"When students leave us, they go on to the military, college and vocational schools," Ashby said. Many of them also earn scholarships to continue their education.

Of the most recent graduating class of 141, some are working on certification to be nursing assistants, others are currently attending Volunteer State Community College, and some are working successfully and expanding their job skills. Two graduates received full military scholarships to become Marine officers.

One 'already had diploma'

Of course, many come to complete high school because of job requirements. One, Ashby says, was especially memorable.

She had left school only a month short of graduation because of family issues. Now she is working for Nissan, and the company required her to get a high school diploma.

"When we checked her records, the school showed she had already graduated," Ashby recalls. "The school hadn't notified her, so she didn't know. It was exciting to be able to give her the good news."

When students complete the course work at the Adult School, it's always cause for a celebration. When a students completes orientation and starts class work, they're given a marble to place in a jar in the lobby that says they are a student. When they finish, they each remove their marbles from that jar and put it in one labeled "Graduates."

'Bells ring' for new grads

But that's just the first step. The new grads walk down the hallway while everyone else comes to classroom doors to cheer for them, and bells are rung. And then for the first time, they leave the building by the front door.

"We get pretty excited for them," Ashby says.

Of course, all the graduates are invited back in June to "walk" and receive their diplomas during a regular graduation ceremony held at College Hills Church of Christ.

Students who are accepted into the Adult School attend 20 hours per week of in-class time between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday or 8:30 a.m. to noon on Friday whenever their personal schedules permit. For students who qualify, the classes are offered at no charge.

To qualify, the student must be over 18, no longer enrolled in regular high school, reside in Wilson County and not have already earned a diploma. For more information, call (615) 443-7199 or visit

The classes are taught on computers with certified, highly-qualified teachers supervising and advising the students as they work. Each student is treated as an adult with goals and dreams they have not yet achieved, Ashby emphasizes.

'Everyone is valued'

"Each student is a valued individual," Ashby says. "That's the atmosphere I want here. They need to work, but we want to celebrate every student. The people who work here have to be the best."

In addition to Ashby, that honor roll of teachers and staff includes Kristi Galligan, English and humanities; Blake Hall, mathematics and science; Joy Shaw, social studies and business; Patti Huffman, guidance counselor; and Vikki Adkins, school secretary.

Ashby also points out that many students become first-generation high school graduates: "When one of them says, 'I'll be the first in my family to graduate,' you realize this is a life-changing experience for them."

Ashby is the first to acknowledge that the school needs the support it receives from Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright and the Wilson County School Board. "If it weren't for the board and the director, we couldn't do this," she says. "But these are the jewels in the county schools' crown."

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at

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