Daniel Hernandez Torres dropped out of school 14 years ago, but this June he plans to walk across a stage with his diploma in hand. He credits the support he received at New Haven Adult & Continuing Education Center for helping him achieve that goal.
“I ended up dropping out 14 years ago because I became homeless,” he said Thursday while dozens of his fellow students swarmed the parking lot in front of the center on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard to check out a nearly 60-agency community resource fair happening around him. “The commute to school, without a place to stay, was really difficult, so I dropped out.”
But he never gave up on his plan to graduate from high school. He said the Adult & Continuing Education Center never gave up on him, either. He’d restart and stop his education at the center four times all while dealing with chronic homelessness, finally getting some stability and a job; meeting his wife, who encouraged him to come back to school; and becoming a dad.
“They were more encouraging the fourth time,” Torres said of the faculty and staff at the center. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, here he comes again,’ they helped me figure out how many credits I needed to finish. Now, I’m the student council representative for the high school credit program.”
Michelle Bonora, the new Adult & Continuing Education principal, wants more adults in the city to know that they can do exactly what Torres has done regardless of the obstacles and that adult ed is there to help.
Starting in August and through September, Bonora and staff are going to hit the doors to let people know how they can get they can get their high school diplomas and GEDs with the launch of the “No Excuses” campaign.
“One in five adults in New Haven does not have a high school diploma,” Bonora said Thursday. “And we want to invite them back to school so that they can advance their lives and advance their families.”
Demetrius Graham, a 29-year-old single father of a 12-year-old son, said he’s trying to do just that: advance his and his son’s life.
“I want to show him that it’s not too late to fight to the finish,” he said. While like Torres, he’s had to stop and re-start his quest for an education to work, whenever he’s ready to return the faculty and staff at adult ed are ready to help him get back on track. “They’re always so welcoming.”
When adult ed says “no excuses” it means removing the barriers that might prevent an adult learner from finishing their education such as a need for child care or a need to work, Veronica Douglas-Givan, family and community resource coordinator for the center. Douglas-Givan is a face you know from her days at WTNH 8; she said sometimes eliminating barriers means being a supportive family when no family is there to give support.
“We have a student who is graduating and the student said no one is going to be here for graduation,” she said. “I told the student, ‘We’re going to be there.’ It’s time to bury the barriers.”
For some of the students at adult ed, those barriers include being from another country and learning English as a second language. That’s Dany Gogbe’s story. The 28-year-old is originally from the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. He’d graduated from a high school there but learned that his diploma didn’t meet the requirements of a Connecticut high school.
French is his native language and after studying English for two years he enrolled in adult ed to complete a GED. He graduates in June and hopes to go on to nursing school.
“I’ve really enjoyed it here,” he said. “The staff is very nice and they’re really good teachers.
Bonora said in August and September look for people in bright yellow t-shirts knocking on doors all over the city and stopping in barbershops, hair and nail salons and other businesses trying to find those people who need to get back to school.
“We never want to wish away the summer,” she said, “but August will be here before you know it.”
As for Torres, after he receives his diploma in June, he plans to enroll at Gateway Community College where he’d like to start studying political science.
“Maybe I’ll run for office,” he said.