“I want to drop out!”: a comment commonly heard from high school students. The circumstances under which this comment is made are another story. Some students say this as they are working themselves too hard: enrolled in multiple Advanced Placement classes, involved in sports, theater, leadership or other time-consuming extracurricular activities. Other students find that traditional high school isn’t the right path for them and believe they would succeed in a different program, getting a different degree or by starting their adult life. One of those pathways is the General Education Degree (GED), which is the equivalent of a high school diploma.
Adrienne Ochs serves as the GED Administrator at the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission for the State of Oregon. In this role, she oversees the process and the students in Oregon who are attempting to get their GED. In other states, there are multiple pathways one can take in order to get their GED. In Oregon however, in order to obtain a GED, students must pass four tests: science, reasoning through language arts, social studies, and math. The Oregon Department of Education, the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, and Portland Public Schools (PPS) have banded together in order to create the best resources for students to utilize to complete that milestone of their GED, especially in Portland.
One of those resources is money. Ochs commented that “The legislature put forward $1.6 million two times in a row. This was to help students who are in GED programs throughout the state and what this funding allowed was for creative ways to eliminate barriers to get them to test.” This money went towards waiving the fee to take the tests, funding child care, transportation, hiring culturally relevant instructors, and creating culturally relevant curriculum.
PPS has added to the effort in helping students obtain their GED through the Reconnection Center. The Reconnection Center is a resource whose purpose is to “re-engage disconnected youth with educational opportunities.” They also will help students to evaluate what credits they need and can identify what learning style is the best for a student. “If a student drops out they can go to the Reconnection Center to find out what’s the best location for that student [to get their GED]” Ochs says. One of the places the reconnection center can place students in is the GED Option Program.
The description of the GED Option Program from the PPS website says that it’s “for students aged 16-20[,] lets students enroll in high school and they are [preparing and taking classes] and ultimately they will get their GED test certificate.” These students are staying in school and therefore don’t have to take the GED tests. Instead, they get the credits and essential skills required to graduate and get their GED in place of a high school diploma while completing high school in a different way. “If you see your colleagues in school and they’re saying ‘yeah I just want to drop out’ you can say ‘okay well you have options,’” says Ochs, when talking about educating students who are heard saying that they’d like to drop-out. Another program which students can complete their GED in is the Yes to College at Portland Community College (PCC). “PCC is a unique program as [students can] get their high school equivalency and college credits[,]” says Ochs.
Raven Irene transferred from Franklin to PCC after she was dropped from Franklin due to attendance issues and lack of motivation. She went through the Yes to College program and is in the Gateway to College program, both at PCC, and earned her GED only a short time ago. “Offhand [differences at PCC include that], attendance is more serious [than in high school] as you can get dropped if you miss a class or two and there’s no outside homework, everything is done in class,” Irene says. At the Gateway to College program, Irene was going to class four hours a day, 4 days a week in order to take college classes and get high school credits which add up to her getting her high school diploma. At her GED program, Irene says, “There were adults [in class], it’s not just your peers in your age level. It’s very professional and everyone is very supportive.” Irene also says that the staff and teachers are caring and really want students to succeed; “It’s not just like a teacher in high school you see during class, they actually check in on you. They went to school to help students that especially don’t thrive in traditional school environments succeed.” The relationships created between students and teachers at PCC are built on communication. “When you’re at PCC, the programs are all about self-advocation. Whether that be [telling a teacher about] being late to class or if [a student] need[s] a break, but they really care about students.”
Dropping out can have a negative connotation and there are many varied opinions when it comes to hearing that students have dropped out. Ochs says that many people don’t think that the GED is as legitimate as a high school diploma, but she wants people to know that it’s an equivalent and that there’s nothing wrong with one. She also wants students to know that those who have their GED are still eligible for the Oregon Promise, a state grant which can help cover tuition costs at any Oregon community college for recent graduates of high school and GED test graduates. “If at all, stay in [traditional] school but know there are other options and get this high school equivalency,” says Ochs. When it comes to her decision to transfer to PCC, Irene wants people to be aware of the shame that can come with dropping out: “There’s such a stigma when dropping out of high school to pursue something non-traditional and other people judge you and it’s a lot of pressure too. You wanna do this for yourself but it’s a lot of work.”