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Adults get 2nd chance at high school diploma

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana’s high school dropout rate is growing.

According to the Department of Education, it’s now up to nearly 13 percent, a 2 percent increase from 2016 to 2017. The Excel Center is an expanding program helping adults get back on their feet. 

A location in Decatur Township that opened in July has already reached its maximum capacity with 147 students and more students on a waiting list. It’s the only location that has partnered with a school district: MSD Decatur Township Schools. The program offers a Core 40 high school diploma rather than a GED certificate.

The classrooms of the Excel Center look typical, but they don’t reflect how eager the students are to learn. 

“I was a kid. I didn’t think it was important when, in actuality, it was,” said 25-year-old Melissa Sowles of her education. 

Sowles dropped out of high school at age 16 during her senior year. At 19, she was pregnant. She then developed a drug habit. 

“I was just too young to care,” she said.

A few years later, at 21 years old, Sowles got pregnant again. This time, it was a turning point. 

“Knowing that there is a life in you and you’re just going to keep doing drugs. It’s not OK,” Sowles tearfully said. 

She traded drugs for books and has been clean for nearly five years. Sowles enrolled at the Excel Center in Decatur Township in July. 

Cassie Perry, Sowles’ life coach and a teacher at the center, works to make sure her students are on track to earn their diplomas. 

“Not only are we trying to help them to graduation, but we’re also trying to get them a plan for after graduation,” said Perry. 

All students who go through the program will also earn a professional certification. Sowles plans to earn some kind of medical certification. The students also have an opportunity to earn college credits. 

“Each student has their own story for why a traditional school may not have worked out for them the first time. So, we’re able to help them through that. I think it’s really important to have a second chance,” said Perry.

That second chance comes without a price tag: Tuition is free. Child care and transportation are provided. For those with vehicles, the Excel Center provides gas cards as well. The nonprofit leaves no excuses so that students can eagerly hit the books.

Sowles is on track to earn her diploma in June 2019.

“I want to give her everything, you know. I just want to be the best that I can be,” she said.

Officials with the Excel Center say they plan to open three more locations in the next three years.