SAM MORRIS / LAS VEGAS SUN
Monday, June 15, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Latest graduation ranking has familiar ring (6-13-09)
- High school graduation rate increases to 65.1 percent (5-10-09)
- Up for review: Who's giving dropouts their second chance (1-20-2009)
- Adult education adds offerings, flexibility (7-9-2008)
- Better late than never (6-16-2006)
- Clark County’s first high school for adults opens doors (1-3-2001)
High school dropout rates are tied to a community’s economic outlook. The bleaker the forecast, the more likely that students quit school to help their families pay the bills.
This high school graduation season, something else is at work.
Although Clark County School District officials say they’re seeing a steady increase in students who have left their traditional high school to care for younger siblings or find work, at the same time more adults have returned to school to improve their chances of finding employment in a tough job market.
The district’s Adult Ed program is responding, offering classes from dawn to dusk in more than 40 locations, including at Desert Rose Adult High School, the program’s only bricks-and-mortar campus.
“Our students are facing tremendous challenges on all sides,” Desert Rose Principal Sandra Ransel said. “It’s not getting any easier.”
Participation in Adult Ed is up 38 percent statewide over the past five years and is expected to continue to grow through the economic downturn.
When the 2008-09 academic year ends June 30, the district’s Adult Ed program will have handed out 928 diplomas at its satellite sites, plus 400 at Desert Rose. Another 1,450 students have earned their GEDs.
The Las Vegas Sun spoke Thursday with Desert Rose graduates at the Thomas & Mack Center as they prepared to accept their diplomas.
Kathy Hurst dropped out of Rancho High School in her senior year to get married. The decision, 17 years ago, upset her parents. But Hurst’s mind was made up.
She was satisfied as a stay-at-home wife and mother to five kids — from 3 to 12 years old. But the economic downturn has led to fewer work hours for her husband, who is employed as a security guard.
“Now he can only get three days a week,” Hurst, 34, said. “That’s been tough for us.”
With her diploma, Hurst said, she is in a better position to contribute to the family finances. She plans to take classes at the College of Southern Nevada to prepare for a health care career, possibly as a certified personal care attendant.
If she could travel back in time and talk to her 17-year-old self?
“I’d say, ‘Don’t be stupid,’ ” Hurst said. “The most important thing you can ever do is to get an education. If I hadn’t quit I’d be in a much better place right now and so would my family.”
Brenda Sanders, 51, works as a checker in a restaurant supply store but has long wanted to work with children.
Without a high school diploma, she had little hope of reaching that goal.
“I’m struggling so hard in a minimum-wage job,” she said. “And I have so much to offer.”
Sanders had three children by age 19. School fell by the wayside as she focused on her family.
While living in Illinois she tried again and again to go back to school. She wasn’t able to make it work until she enrolled at Desert Rose.
“I tell my eight grandkids, if I can do it they can do it,” Sanders said. “Never give up.”
Ivy Washington, 56, quit Western High School in 1970 to enlist in the Army. After leaving the military he found work as a cabinetmaker.
One day last year, when a conversation among friends turned to education, Washington mentioned he had never graduated from high school.
What are you waiting for? his friends said.
“I finally stopped procrastinating,” he said. “And now here I am in a cap and gown.”
He wants to continue his education and study theology, which could lead to a career change. He’s now in a better position to counsel others who are struggling to improve their lives, Washington said.
“Education is the only way,” he said. “It will be easier now for me to say that, since I did it myself. Otherwise, I’d be a hypocrite.”
In 2007, with his mother struggling to pay the mortgage, David McAllister quit attending Cheyenne High School and went to work.
At first the only jobs he could find were in fast-food restaurants.
After he turned 18, McAllister landed a warehouse job. But he didn’t care for the work, loading and unloading the same thing day after day.
“I was just working to work, to get a paycheck and help my mom pay the bills,” McAllister, 20, said. “I was worried about my future — what kind of job would I get? Would I have a decent career?”
He’s now training to become a firefighter and plans to earn his paramedic certification at CSN.
“The future is bright,” McAllister said. “A lot of doors are open to me.”
Back home in Utah, Tyler Petersen’s high school guidance counselor offered no hope that he could graduate this year. Because of family troubles he had fallen behind his classmates.
Petersen, 17, found a job waiting tables for $5.15 per hour.
“That’s not exactly what my lifetime goal was,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but being a waiter wasn’t it.”
Petersen moved in with relatives in Henderson. School District officials here told him about Desert Rose and suddenly earning his diploma this year was a realistic goal.
“There were a lot of days I was at school from 8 to 8,” Petersen said. “If you have to make up 17 credits in nine months, that’s the way to do it.”
Petersen said he wants a career in politics and plans to start his higher education at CSN before transferring to a four-year university.
“If politics doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll be a teacher,” Petersen said.
Selina Rankin was a student at Shadow Ridge High School when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to quit working. The only child of a single parent, Rankin dropped out of school to care for her mother, who died in February 2008.
As a sales clerk at a clothing store, Rankin quickly learned her options were limited by a lack of education.
“You get the little-paying jobs until you get out of school,” Rankin, 19, said. And for high school dropouts, low-wage jobs are the only ones that are available.
Rankin tried three times to return to Shadow Ridge and complete her schooling, but couldn’t make it fit her schedule.
Desert Rose was the answer.
“I’m really glad I went back,” Rankin said. “Now I have options to explore.”