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East Aurora loses funding for regional adult high school program

High School didn't go as planned for Ryan Thompsnow 36. He quit before graduatihas always wanted go back get his

High School didn't go as planned for Ryan Thompson, now 36. He quit before graduation and has always wanted to go back and get his degree which to him means more than just a GED. He had one and a half classes left in a program at East Aurora High School and he would have had his degree but funding issues caused the class to end leaving Thompson and his classmates out of options. Here he is photographed in North Aurora on Monday, August 13, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 30, 2012 11:02AM

AURORA — One-and-a-half classes.

That’s all that stands between 35-year-old Ryan Thompson and his high school diploma — all that stands between the Aurora father and his dreams of a brighter future.

One-and-a-half classes that he’ll never get to take.

After more than three decades, the East Aurora Adult Secondary Education program is closing its doors for good, and taking Thompson’s credits with it.

In June, the program, which offers adult learners throughout the Fox Valley an opportunity to earn their high school diplomas, lost its federal funding and was forced to cease immediately.

After a three-week summer break, Thompson and more than 70 other program participants returned to class and were told that the program was over.

“I was beside myself,” Thompson said. “I thought, ‘Is this a joke?’ But, it wasn’t

Students from across the region who had made the decision to return to school with hopes of obtaining a degree are now left with one option: head to Waubonsee Community College and get a GED.

“A GED is not the same as a diploma,” Thompson said. “This was important to me.”

For the past 15 months, Thompson put countless hours into completing the coursework necessary to earn his degree. He took consumer education and government courses. He passed English, and was ready to begin math.

“Everything I did is now null and void. I did all of that for nothing,” he said.

Credits won’t transfer

East Aurora School District spokesman Clayton Muhammad said the East Aurora Adult Secondary Education program is the only one of its kind in the area. Thompson and the other students’ credits won’t transfer, and their best bet is to work with WCC to get an equivalency certificate.

“Losing that funding really disrupted the quality of life for these students,” Muhammad said.

The district’s hands, however, are tied, he said.

Though the program bears the East Aurora name, it serves students of all ages throughout the Waubonsee Community College service area. Even if the East Aurora School District did dish out the $70,000 to finish up the year, there would be students in a situation similar to Thompson next summer.

“To predict the number of students who would finish would be impossible,” Muhammad said. “There are too many variables.”

The Illinois Community College Board Adult Education and Family Literacy Grant was for approximately $120,000, Muhammad said. More than half of that money went to fund the Adult Secondary Education Program, while the rest covered expenses of the Adult Basic Education Program. The basic program allowed adult learners the opportunity to earn enough credits to enter the secondary program and receive their diplomas.

Competitive funding

Students enter the Adult Secondary Education program with different numbers of credits, and complete the coursework at their own rate.

“It could take a couple months, or a couple years,” Muhammad said.

Five students who were on track to graduate this summer were allowed to complete their courses, Muhammad said. The rest of the students were referred to GED programs.

“The commitment (to fund the program) would not be just an annual commitment,” Muhammad said. “Next year we would be in the same position.”

Muhammad said that the district isn’t sure why it lost the grant, but that the competitiveness of the funding is steeper than usual. Administrators are waiting on reviewer’s comments, and will be applying again.

“It’s been such a long standing program and has become a staple, a fabric of this high school and district as a whole. It’s disappointing for us as well. Had we had any inclination, we would have been better prepared,” Muhammad said.

Uncertain future

For Thompson, the situation is stomach-churning.

Since dropping out of school at 16 to raise a family, Thompson said he has worked every job imaginable — construction, concrete laborer, tree removal.

“When you do that, you think about your education the whole time. ‘I wish I would have done something more when I had the chance,’ you think. And, when I did get the chance I thought, ‘Thank God. You answered my prayers.’”

Thompson promised his daughter, who graduated from East Aurora High School this spring, that he would try and beat her to getting a diploma. That didn’t happen, but the proud dad, who was scheduled to graduate in September, was working hard toward his goal.

“I’ve bettered my life in so many ways, and I thought this would be icing on the cake,” he said.

“But here I am with nothing... It’s just a really sad, sad situation. I could have cried. When I came out of there, I felt I had basically blown my plans for a future.”

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