Wait was long, the diploma sweet Education: More than 100 people got their external diplomas or GED certificates in Westminster Friday. One described it as "an opportunity to try to make something of myself."

June 23, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A diploma is much more than a piece of paper to Dena Abbott, a 21-year-old single mother who earned hers through a program based on grown-up life experience.

Abbott and about 100 others who completed the external diploma program or the General Educational Development certificate program marched across the stage at Westminster High School Friday to receive that important piece of paper.

"It was an opportunity to try to make something of myself," said Abbott, who lives in Hampstead and works for English American Tailors. "I wanted to prove to myself I could do it."

The external diploma differs from the GED program. Both are based on national standards and run by the American Council on Education. The GED program is a series of academic subject tests a person must pass. Most adults take preparatory courses before taking the tests. The certificate they earn from passing all the tests is not a diploma but the equivalent of one.

The external diploma gives the recipient a state high-school diploma. However, it is less academically oriented than GED.

To earn an external diploma, Abbott had to demonstrate 65 skills, such as interpreting a product warranty, comparing sources of credit and figuring out payroll deductions. She met weekly with an adviser and assessor.

Abbott remembers a particularly difficult assignment in which she had to categorize and chart issues in the media, differentiating between fact and opinion.

"It might sound easy, but they even tell you that it's one of the hardest ones," she said. She had to do it more than once but completed it successfully.

"If I can do that, I can do anything," she said.

For Edward Houser of Melrose, the external diploma is more oriented to acknowledging the experience he has accumulated over his 68 years. He has had a successful career as a machinist, having worked for Domino Sugar for 32 years and for the U.S. Naval Academy. "I went to a lot of supervisory training courses," he said, and took college courses at night. "I went through 20 years of night school, but I never got a high school diploma."

Houser dropped out of school five decades ago, when it wasn't considered such a big deal. He grew up in a Locust Point rowhouse with 13 aunts and uncles who were like siblings, and none of them finished high school.

"If I wanted to learn something, like carpentry or cabinetmaking, I went to a training course" through jobs, he said.

He moved to Carroll County 10 years ago and built his own geodesic-dome house, where he lives with his wife of 47 years. They have five grown children and a wonderful life, he said.

The diploma just tops it off. "It was just a desire," he said.

Abbott had to quit school when she was 16 and pregnant with her first child. She said the support services for teen parents that exist now were not available then. She decided not to return to school, but to focus on caring for and supporting her baby. She found a woman to watch her baby while she went to work.

"I didn't think my children should have to pay for my mistakes," she said.

Abbott, who has two children, plans to pursue a licensed practical nurse degree when her little girl is in elementary school.

Completing the external diploma program was tough, and she repeatedly told her advisers, Debbie Standiford and Robin Kujan, that she couldn't do it.

"They'd say, 'You can do it.' If it wasn't for them, I know I wouldn't have done it," she said.

Kujan said, "At first you hear them say, 'I'm so dumb. I really can't do this.' At the end, you really don't hear that."

But when they finish the tasks and meeting with an adviser, they sing a different song.

"They say, 'I'm going to take this class at Carroll Community College.' They set goals for themselves. This is usually the first goal they've stuck to and finished.

"I think they're new people when they finish this program," Kujan said.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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