LEWISTON — Krysta Holden, 18, smiled as she tried on a cap and gown for her upcoming graduation.
Holden was one of Lewiston's drop out statistics, quitting school when attending Lewiston High.
She wasn't out for long.
On June 8 she'll be among 175 completing their high school education during the Lewiston Adult Education graduation.
About 30 percent of this year's graduating class are young adults ages 17 to 22, said Lewiston Adult Education Director Eva Giles. It's one impact of the tough economy and tightening job market.
The majority of area employers, even those hiring entry level jobs, are requiring a high school diploma or GED. “Very, very few are allowing folks to work without them,” Giles said. “The tough job market is making it difficult for them to go anywhere.”
Typical reasons students drop out is they've had academic difficulty and need to stay in school longer, but when their friends have graduated and are gone, “they feel a lack of connection” with the younger students, Giles said.
Others don't take school seriously until they realize how much they need it, or are looking for a different or smaller learning environment, Giles said.
For Holden it was the size of Lewiston High School, one of the largest in Maine, that prompted her to quit during her junior year.
“I loved school all through elementary school,” she said. “Then I hit the middle school. It got a little bumpy. There's a lot of people.” The high school was "so big, so different. It didn't feel like school anymore,” she said. “And teenagers are mean.”
She came back to school after realizing how much she needed it to get a job.
Last year she was working sales for a telemarketing company and was laid off. “I barely qualified for unemployment. I hadn't been there long,” Holden said. “Looking for a job was hard. I looked crappy on an application. I realized I really do need the education to get further.”
Adult education was different from high school, she said. The environment was smaller. There was less drama. “Nobody's there unless they genuinely want to learn and get it done.”
After graduation she's planning to enroll in a Portland beauty school to become a licensed cosmetologist. She couldn't enter that program without a high school education, Holden said. “No matter what I wanted to do, I needed to be a high school graduate.”
She's excited, but is frustrated with herself: She's graduating one year late and not with her class. “But at the same time I got it done. I'm happy.”
Karianne Thomas, 19, is another drop-out statistic soon to become a high school graduate statistic.
When Thomas was in school, “I didn't have motivation. I never really stuck to it. I didn't care about anything.” She didn't like school, she said. “There were too many people.”
Her attitude changed six months ago when she became a mother. Now she wants to be a good role model and wants to provide for her son. “I can't do that without schooling and college,” Thomas said.
She plans to continue her education at the Central Maine Community College. For now, she's looking forward to wearing the cap and gown. “I'm excited.”