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Getting Teens Out Of Adult Ed.

Superintendent Wants Kids To Stay In High School

August 6, 2007
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

It's called "adult education," but most of its students are still teenagers who ought to be back in high school, says Hartford Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski.

Some of the young students in a high-school credit diploma program, however, contend that Adamowski has gone too far with his ambitious plan to shake up the program and put the "adult" back into adult education.

Adamowski is tightening the rules in the adult high school credit program, where officials say more than 70 percent of students are 20 or under. He is revamping the ninth-grade program at the city's high schools, consolidating two major adult-education centers into a single location, and making it harder for dropouts to get into adult classes.

"Instead of 70 percent teenagers ... I'd like to see 70 percent adults" in the program, Adamowski said.

It is not a popular idea with students such as 17-year-old Kristina Virgo, who quit Bulkeley High School in her sophomore year and decided to work toward a diploma in adult classes. "There is less distraction here," she said. "It's a smaller environment."

Virgo said some students have difficulty adjusting to high school. At Bulkeley, "I was on the verge of getting expelled because of all the drama, all the fights," she said. For students who fall behind or have been absent too often, "teachers in high school are pushing you out into adult education," she said.

One teacher, she recalled, told her, "I don't know why you're here."

Adamowski, however, hopes to keep more students in high school.

In an effort to stem a dropout rate that sees two out of three students quitting school because of academic problems, he has called on the city's high schools to change the approach to ninth grade. Starting this fall, the schools will assign freshmen to ninth-grade academies, with freshmen working with the same group of teachers in classes separate from older students. Schools will teach math and reading in double periods, provide tutoring, and offer summer classes. The district has added 17 teachers to focus strictly on freshmen.

Virgo, like others who are already enrolled in adult classes, will be allowed to continue, but new enrollees will face tighter restrictions. The district no longer will allow students to enroll in the adult diploma program unless they have already earned at least 15 high school credits or pass a test showing that they have at least a ninth-grade reading level and eighth-grade math level. Fifteen credits is roughly equivalent to completion of the junior year.

The high school credit diploma program is one of several adult programs. Adults also can take basic education classes, English language courses and classes leading to a diploma through the General Educational Development (GED) test.

The district is making the adult high school credit program more rigorous by increasing the number of hours required to earn credits.

"We've had a terrible system where we've allowed students to drop out [of high school] or be pushed out into [an adult] program that has much lower standards than a regular high school diploma," Adamowski said.

"In the past, we've lost most of our dropouts between ninth and 10th grades," he said. "About half go to adult education. It might be possible to graduate at a fourth-grade reading level, but your life prospects are not that much better."

However, Edwin Vargas, who has taught classes to adults who are learning English, said it is likely to be difficult to educate everyone in the traditional high schools. "Some of them have been threatened by gangs," he said. "Adult education is seen as neutral ground."

He said, "I think there's a misconception that somehow [adult education] is encouraging kids to drop out of high school. ... You need a variety of strategies for kids if traditional education isn't working." In some cases, principals urge students to quit "to get rid of what they perceive to be problem students," he said.

"There is a culture at the regular high schools where some students just don't fit, for whatever reason," he said. "Some fail here, too, but they see it as a last chance."

Some students said they were upset about uncertainty over where the adult program would be located this fall. The city will close an adult education center on Locust Street in the South End and temporarily hold all classes at the North End site at 2550 Main St., Adamowski said.

The North End site will close in October, and classes will move to a central location at 110 Washington St., he said.

The move is getting a mixed reaction.

Waverly James, a 37-year-old Hartford resident who graduated from the adult high school credit program in June, said some South End students had worried about moving to unfamiliar territory at the North End site and would welcome the move to Washington Street.

"That's what most of the kids wanted anyway," he said. "It's a good move."

However, Sharon Ferguson, 47, said some of her friends in the adult basic education program at the North End site do not like the move to Washington Street and might drop out.

"To catch a bus to go there is going to be a real difficulty," she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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