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High School Equivalency Students Graduate at NMJC

High School Equivalency Students Graduate at NMJC photo 5/13/2016 9:18:48 a.m. - Hobbs, NM. (Story by Dorothy Fowler - Hobbs News Sun)

HSE graduates survive curves in the road to get degrees

There are 409 students enrolled in the adult education program at New Mexico Junior College as of this writing. Of that number about 44 will have earned their High School Equivalency diplomas between July 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016.

Of the approximately 44 who have already received diplomas or who soon will receive their diplomas, 21 have registered for graduation, bought their black caps and gowns and will walk across the stage at NMJC’s graduation ceremonies at the Lea County Event Center Friday at 7 p.m.

Katherine Ferrell, director of the adult education program at NMJC, said the ages of students receiving the HSE (the GED is now a registered name and cannot be used without permission), range between 16 to the late 50s.

The oldest person enrolled in the adult education program was an 82-year-old man who was enrolled in the English as a Second Language program, but Ferrell said she doesn’t think anyone that old has enrolled in the HSE program. However, anyone 18 or older can enroll and there is no upward age limit.

Students younger than 18 — no one younger than 16 is accepted — must have parental permission to enroll. When parents give their kids permission to enroll in the HSE program, they lose any control of their child’s education.

Once an under-age student is enrolled in HSE, he or she has the same right to privacy about grades and academic progress as any other student has.

Although the number of 16 and 17 year-old students is still relatively low, their numbers are growing.

“Where there might be one each session several years ago, now there are 10 each session,” Ferrell said. “Some of them are just in a hurry to get through high school and on to college or work. They come from out of state and they would lose too many credits to stay in the conventional high school. Some just don’t fit into the culture of their high school. There are lots of reasons why they enroll is this program.”

Other reasons include financial necessity, unplanned parenthood, or profound discouragement.

Katrina Lehman left high school at 17 after her father died.

“I thought I needed to get a job and help my mom,” she said.

Lehman said she finished the HSE program last year, but didn’t get to walk across the stage. Now, at 18, she’s still working and providing extra income for her family, but she’s also a full-time student at NMJC, working toward an associate’s degree in applied science.

Alexus Hernandez heard about the HSE program on the radio. She dropped out of school after becoming pregnant at 16 and after her son, who will son be three-years old was born, went to work at her father’s company.

“I wanted my high school diploma so I can enroll in college and get a degree in accounting,” she said. “If I’m going to be an office manager, I need to know something about taxes and finance.”

Ruben Garza, Jr. earned his high school diploma in 1995 after a long period of discouragement.

“I just gave up on everything. I dropped out of school to go to work in the oilfield,” he said. “But my son and my mom brought me back. Friday night, my son, Ruben Alexander Garza and I will walk across the stage together.”

The elder Garza, who wants to become a nurse, said he wants other people who may be discouraged to “trust God, keep your faith, keep trying, no matter what because you are on God’s time.” Marisol Cabrera is another nursing aspirant. She is already a certified nursing assistant and is taking the pre-requisites for admission into the registered nursing program. She has three children, ages eight, five and four.

“I want to be a good example for my kids,” she said. “My eight year-old is so proud of me and he is already planning to go to college and be like his mother.”

The HSE program, along with many of the other adult education programs, is free to participants. They are supported by federal and state funds set up for the purpose of encouraging people to get as much education as they can. Ferrell said students who enroll in the HSE program take a test called the PABE, which is designed to tell school officials where they are. Are they ready to take classroom classes? Are they ready to take any of the HSE tests? What are the different concepts they need to master before they can move on to the next level?

Students can complete the HSE curriculum in one six weeks session, but the average student requires three to four sessions, Ferrell said.

“It depends partly on how much study the student does at home,” she said. “But we don’t recommend that students do all their work at home online. We want them to have the face-to-face give and take with teachers and with classmates. But students who are in places too far away to come to Hobbs to class, Jal and Tatum, can and do complete their studies completely online.”

Classes in the program are offered both during daytime and evening hours.

“Sometimes students need a transition class before they’re ready to take on the HSE math class and there is also a “bridge” class to help students strengthen their writing skills,” she said.

Students earn credit for the courses they complete by taking the equivalent of a final exam in each course.

“There are several different tests,” Ferrell said. “They can’t take them all at once. They have to be one-at-a-time. If they fail one, they are allowed to retest, but after the third attempt, they have to attend class again.”

Ferrell said people have different reasons for earning an HSE diploma.

“About one of every two are work related. They need the diploma either to get a job or keep a job they already have. The women who take the course want to be able to help their children with their school work, to be successful and to set a good example. About the same number of men as women enroll,” Ferrell said

Ferrell stressed that NMJC offers the only program in Lea County that leads to the HSE diploma and that the college is eager to help people earn them.

“We’re open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday,” she said. “We are in room 205 in the Ben Alexander Building on the college campus.”

Dorothy N. Fowler can be reached at 575-391-5446 or .

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