In 2010, we designed and launched a high school for older youth and adults who had dropped out of school. We did this in response to a request by the Mayor of Indianapolis to see if we could find a way to help adults who lacked a high school diploma to earn one. There are a lot more people in that situation than I had imagined – over 15% of the adult population of the United States, including over 100,000 in Indianapolis – and because existing adult education programs left a lot to be desired, those individuals have had very limited options.
We designed the school to fit the life circumstances of the prospective students. The Excel Center is open year-round, and schedules can be arranged to accommodate students’ work or family obligations. Supports are available to help keep students on track and to address factors that might hinder education attainment. There’s a free child care center for the children of our students while they are in class, and many of our students are able to take post-secondary courses for dual credit and begin working toward a post-secondary credential that will increase their employability and earning potential.
We opened the first Excel Center in September 2010. Although we did no advertising, by the following spring there were over 2,000 prospective students on the waiting list. Nothing we have ever done has resonated so quickly with so many people.
In September 2011 we added two more sites, and in August we will open two more to bring total enrollment to approximately 1,400 students. We are also packaging the model and developing a licensing option so that qualified organizations in other communities and states can open Excel Centers and become part of an Excel Center Network that will enable thousands more adults to raise their education attainment levels.
All of the schools in the network will have access to a portal with curriculum materials and other educational resources, a data system that will permit “deep dives” to see what’s working best and enhance efforts to improve student success. A communications platform will enable lateral communication among staff across the network as they seek to improve their effectiveness. The model will not be static. Rather, everyone in the network will be in a position to help improve it.
Fifty-five percent of our students are 24 years of age or younger. We also have many parents who are in their 30s and 40s. We have even had a few students who were in their 60s. Many of the parents have told us they are doing this so their kids won’t have an excuse not to finish school. Some of our students and their school-age children even do their homework together around the kitchen table.
We know our graduates will benefit from earning their high school diploma and obtaining a post-secondary credential, as they will then qualify for better jobs than they’ve typically had. But we believe their children will benefit even more, as they have seen their parents going to school, doing homework, and in many cases having a renewed sense of purpose and excitement in life.
There are many reasons why students in our Excel Centers didn’t finish high school when they were younger. Some admit they just made a mistake. As we’ve seen, though, there are a lot of adults eager for another chance to improve their circumstances and those of their children.