Kennewick woman uses new program to graduate high school

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 30, 2012 

KENNEWICK — Shaniece Bryan readily admits she should have graduated two years ago from Kamiakin High School.

"I really didn't take it seriously," the 20-year-old said.

She came close to completing her high school education a few times, either through another school or trying to earn a GED diploma. Each time, either a conflict with a teacher or lack of interest prompted her to drop out.

Things changed last fall after learning she was pregnant.

"Once I found that out, I knew I needed to graduate," she said.

On Friday, she will. Thanks to Columbia Basin College's new High School Academy and teachers and counselors, Bryan will earn a diploma from Legacy High School, Kennewick's alternative high school.

The development of new educational opportunities for dropouts, and discovering the value of an education, is leading to more young adults finishing their high school coursework.

"A lot of kids think they can just get a GED, but it's not that simple," said Legacy High counselor Michelle Holmes.

Bryan's high school education began at Legacy, where she attended for the first half of her freshman year after struggling as an eighth-grader. She transferred to Kamiakin High and attended there for the next three-and-a-half years. But she didn't pass all of her classes, including language arts, which is required to graduate.

Part of Bryan's struggles in the classroom stemmed from her view of school as a carefree place, Holmes said.

"Your parents tell you an education is important, but in my home it isn't like that," Bryan said. "My mom didn't graduate, and she had me when she was 16."

Bryan said she realized late in her senior year of 2010 that she wouldn't graduate. She enrolled in Legacy High's online courses, which allowed her to take culinary arts classes at Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick.

A conflict with a teacher led her to drop out of Tri-Tech before she finished a semester, Bryan said. She also stopped participating in her online courses and was dropped from the program.

Next, Bryan looked to earn her GED and enrolled in prep courses at WorkSource Columbia Basin. She became frustrated with the program and dropped out, she said.

"I also didn't have the money (to take the test)," Bryan said. It costs $75 to take the test required for a GED.

Bryan then sought employment but rarely got any call backs. She said no one mentioned the lack of a high school education as why she wasn't hired, but she believes that likely was a factor.

By the end of August 2011, she was living with a friend and began to realize there were few options remaining. She said she decided to give school another shot.

Holmes, who had worked with Bryan during the years, said she tried to be optimistic when Bryan contacted her about returning to Legacy High. However, the counselor knew Bryan faced challenges, including her difficulty with focusing.

"I knew I needed to have her in as many classroom-based classes as possible," Holmes said.

Tardiness was another issue for Bryan. News of the pregnancy created the sense of urgency, but it also led to problems at home.

That's when Holmes learned of CBC's High School Academy, a new program that serves 27 students and is directed by Leonor de Maldonado.

The coalition between the community college and Kennewick and Richland school districts created the program to help dropouts who either are too old to go back into a traditional high school environment or weren't able to succeed there and need more than a GED, de Maldonado said.

"We're helping our students become productive citizens," she said.

Bryan was the type of student the academy was designed to serve, de Maldonado said, and school officials worked to get her enrolled in it in January. But the program was delayed, so Bryan didn't start attending academy classes until March 1.

Fortunately, the academy is an intensive system, covering lots of coursework over a short time, de Maldonado said. That intensive approach enabled Bryan to join Legacy High's graduating class this year.

The first few months of the program have gone well, said de Maldonado, who hopes to see it grow as the coalition learns of other students such as Bryan.

"We have to realize we are not all the same," de Maldonado said. "We need different options. A program can be excellent but if a student doesn't fit, it doesn't help."

Bryan's son is due in July. She wants to continue her education at CBC, she said, but knows that may not be until the winter quarter. And now, she said, she will make sure her son knows the value of getting an education.

"It means the world to me to get (my diploma)," she said. "Education is everything, and it's taken me a couple of years to realize that."

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