If it wasn't trips to the library, it was writing letters. And if it wasn't writing letters, it was sorting laundry, grouses Gary Akers Sr. All for a high school diploma.
His son, Gary Akers Jr., who spent the past year doing the same things, looks across the kitchen table and chuckles knowingly. It's over. Yesterday, father, 47, and son, 21, received their Maryland External High School diplomas in the season's first high school graduation in Anne Arundel County.
They are among an estimated 400 people statewide to get the portfolio-based diploma this year and among 3,766 students graduating from the county's high schools this spring. The rest of the high school graduation ceremonies start tomorrow and continue through June 1.
For the father and son from Crownsville, the competitions to see who could finish pie charts first and who didn't have to rewrite letters to elected officials ended last month when they completed requirements for the
state's oldest external high school program.
To be awarded the external diploma, students must pass 65 requirements and apply book studies and skills to work and personal experiences. They must demonstrate skills as varied as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and negotiating a loan. Students meet with teachers once a week for up to three hours to build a portfolio and plan projects in this alternative to the test-based equivalency diploma. Everything else is homework, said Roni Nudelman, who coordinates the program for Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
The elder Akers, who quit school after 10th grade, restarted his studies a year ago.
"You know what parents do for their kids," he said. "That is the last thing I am doing for these kids," he joked, pointing to a royal blue graduation gown in a plastic bag on the kitchen table.
When he started the external diploma program, he had a sense of being over the hill, the elder Akers said. People his son's age trooped by to see their teachers.
"And here I am walking in, gray-bearded and bald-headed," he said.
He had quit before. This time, though, he was setting an example for his son.
"All these kids did was fuss about it. So I got it. Now maybe they'll keep their mouths shut," he said.
Instead, his son gushes praise.
"I admire him," said the younger Akers, who enrolled a month after his father did. "It was hard for him."
The younger Akers had left Annapolis High School in 11th grade, a self-described troublemaker about to be expelled. He worked in roofing, stocked shelves and trimmed trees. But the jobs he wanted were elusive because he had no diploma.
He also was looking at the prospect of being the only one in the family without one.
His sister, Donna, 17, will graduate Friday from Annapolis High School -- he couldn't let her graduate before him -- and his mother, Candy, 42, received her external diploma when he was a child.
Candy Akers said the diploma has gotten her son thinking about career and job training. The younger Akers has no shortage of ideas. Maybe skilled labor. Maybe his own business. Maybe the Coast Guard. Maybe college. All get a nod from his father: "His life's just starting."
The external diploma program has lost its state funding for next year. But counties, which charge $100 to $125 a student, can try to make up the difference through higher fees and local subsidies, grants and federal dollars.
Broadneck High School, 7 p.m. at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Evening High School, 8 p.m. at Board of Education building on Riva Road.
Annapolis High School, 7: 30 p.m. at the Show Place Arena, Upper Marlboro
Chesapeake High School, 7 p.m. at the school stadium.
Old Mill High School, 6 p.m. at the University of Maryland Baltimore County
South River High School, 7 p.m. in the school gymnasium.
Arundel High School, 10 a.m. at the University of Maryland Baltimore County
Meade High School, 4 p.m. at the University of Maryland Baltimore County
Northeast High School, 11 a.m. in the school auditorium
Southern High School, 3 p.m. at the Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro
Severna Park High School, 4 p.m. at the University of Maryland Baltimore County
North County High School, 8 p.m. at the University of Maryland Baltimore County
Marley Glen School, 2 p.m. at the school
Phoenix-Annapolis, 12 p.m. at the school
Glen Burnie High School, 9: 30 a.m. at the University of Maryland Baltimore County
TO BE ANNOUNCED
Ruth Eason School
Pub Date: 5/22/96