Helping 150 Lewiston dropouts graduate each year

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LEWISTON — On a recent weekday a man who looked to be in his 20s came into the Lewiston Adult Education office.

He looked at a display of smiling men and women in blue caps and gowns from the June 2011 graduation. “Soon we’ll be up there,” he said to a friend.

On another morning, teacher Don Roux coached a young man in algebra.

The two talked about pi and squaring numbers. Six other students, some in their 20s, some in their 40s, worked silently on assignments.

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Welcome to adult education, a program where 275 students are studying to complete their high school educations. About 150 graduate each June.

Common reasons they drop out of high school, according to survey data, include the need to work, the need to care for family members or health issues that cause them to miss too many classes.

Some had emotional or mental health problems, weren’t happy in school, didn’t feel connected or their social life was more important.

The majority struggled with the large size of Lewiston High School and how they fit in, Adult Education Director Eva Giles said. Others were impatient with rules or thought high school was a waste of time.

Some said their parents didn’t support education.

“We still have a lot of folks who are the first in their families to get a high school diploma,” adult education teacher Anne Kemper said. “It’s not uncommon.”

For some teens, “it’s difficult for them to get up. They’re night owls,” Kemper said. “Mom or dad are at work. No one is shaking them to get out of bed.”

Roux, who teaches core subjects that students need to complete their GEDs, said some students are in his classes because they’re in a program that tells them to be there, such as welfare or probation.

“Others are here because they want to be here,” he said. “Those people usually left school because of personal problems.” Some have jobs and want to do better. The majority plan to continue their educations, he said.

Most of the people he sees need help in math and writing. “Writing’s getting worse because of texting,” he said. Roux tells them they can’t use the letter “u” to write the word “you,” or the letter “r” for “are.”

In the past three years, adult education has ramped up its connections at the high school with potential dropouts, to help them understand what adult education is about, Giles said.

She wants them to understand that getting a GED “isn’t going to be an easy substitute. If it’s a reason that isn’t going to be solved by changing the venue, we need to help them realize that.”

Most of the people in adult education are in their mid-20s and older. They’ve returned to school “because they cannot get a job,” Kemper said.

The realization that they need a high school education usually takes a few years away from school “before they’ve had enough experience to see this is a benchmark they need,” Giles said.

But returning isn’t easy, she said. After a person drops out, “they have a lot of negative emotions they have to overcome to come back. That’s why many are reluctant to talk about it. It’s hard.”

At adult education graduations, the graduates and families are thrilled, Giles said, adding that the ceremonies are jovial. “We fill the high school gym. It’s great,” Kemper said.

Roux agreed, saying his job gives him “total satisfaction.” He’s making a positive difference in somebody’s life every day.

“Everyplace I go, it’s, ‘Hey Don!’ I see my former students,” he said. “They recognize me and thank me.”

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