Moving America Forward

He Dropped Out of High School 30 Years Ago, But This Innovative Education Center Helped Him Earn a Diploma

January 23, 2014
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He Dropped Out of High School 30 Years Ago, But This Innovative Education Center Helped Him Earn a Diploma
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Goodwill is turning dropouts into an educated, economic resource for their community.

Montaque Quentrel Koonce of Indianapolis dropped out of high school at age 16. Years later, when he was laid-off from his job on an assembly line, he struggled to find an affordable place to live. That’s when he turned to the Excel Center, a Goodwill-sponsored charter school that offers the city’s 150,000 dropouts a chance to earn a high school degree and college credit. Koonce told April Brown of the PBS NewsHour there were “two things [he’s] terrified of,” becoming homeless, and “having to do math. So I had to confront both of those fears at the same time.” Koonce overcame his fears, graduating with a high school degree more than thirty years after he dropped out.

Goodwill is mostly known for its thrift stores, whose sales fund job training and programs for a variety of needy people. But although Goodwill hadn’t previously been involved in education, representatives of the City of Indianapolis’ mayor’s office approached Goodwill of Central Indiana about starting a program to help the city’s dropouts who’d been severely affected by the recession. (In Indianapolis, the mayor’s office is able to sponsor state charter schools.)

Jim McClelland, CEO and President of Goodwill of Central Indiana, decided its education centers would offer dropouts the opportunity to earn high school degrees rather than G.E.D.s, because according to research, those with G.E.D.s fare little better in terms of job opportunities and money-earning potential than dropouts do. The Excel Center also offers college credit and classes that prepare students to earn technical certifications.

The Excel Center now enrolls 3,000 adults at nine different locations in Indiana, where the teachers hold them to high standards. Kandas Boozer, an algebra teacher for Excel, told Brown, “I expect them to always give 100 percent no matter what that looks like. Everybody is at a different level, so I just want to make sure they give me everything they have.” People like Koonce are getting a lot in return.

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