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Trying to educate students ages 16 to 67 poses a unique set of challenges, from dealing with child care to incorporating technology everyone can use. It’s all part of the day – and night – at Delaware’s James H. Groves Adult High School, which operates at six different sites throughout the state as well as online. The school also works with four Delaware prisons.

The center is a bright spot in the strained world of adult education, where enrollment has shrunk nationally because of budget cuts, and many adults languish on wait-lists for a chance to brush up on skills they never mastered. The school is open to anyone 16 and older who is out of the traditional K-12 system but still wishes to obtain a high school diploma. Since 2006, it has graduated over 400 students a year.

What’s the secret? “It’s a real meat-and-potatoes program,” said Maureen Whelan, Delaware’s education associate for adult and prison education. “You’re going to get what you need in high school requirements. No senior proms, no extra activities.”

The coursework is identical to what a typical high school student in the state takes. “Our students are getting a state of Delaware diploma,” said Betsy Jones, principal at the Groves’ site in the POLYTECH School District. “They have to meet the same minimum requirements.” Groves offers a full range of courses in afternoons and evenings, and students can take them at any site or online. The cost is $40 per semester regardless of how many courses a student takes.

At POLYTECH, teachers have learned how to navigate all the differences that come with different generations. “A lot of that is dependent on the teachers and the staff, and the tone that they set in the classroom,” Jones said. “We don’t treat anyone differently.”

The success of Grove’s seven sites stands out. A report released today by the Southern Regional Education Board notes that too few adults are enrolled in programs. SREB officials say that state programs need to serve more adults who never completed ninth grade or who later dropped out of high school, including those with poor English skills.

At the Groves’ sites, students who are no longer officially enrolled in high school and test at a ninth-grade level or above on the Test of Adult Basic Education, which measures knowledge of basic subject matter, can enroll in as many courses as they need to graduate.

The biggest challenge for the program going forward, Whelan said, will be to “make a high school diploma a viable option for folks who have been out of high school for a while.” She said she hopes to work with Delaware’s Department of Labor to get the idea across to dropouts that “employers really do want workers who have academic skills.”

Groves also will be piloting a program this year to help graduates transition into postsecondary institutions. The school wants to reinforce the idea that adult education can improve one’s life. “You graduate from Groves for a purpose – to get a job or go into some kind of postsecondary education,” Whelan said.

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Sarah Butrymowicz oversees and contributes to The Hechinger Report’s investigative and data work covering all levels of education, from early childhood to K-12 to higher education. She has worked at...

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