KeepHealthCare.ORG – Hammond charter school offers free childcare to help adult students finish high school
One day before her high school graduation in Illinois, Kamie Macias found out she was one credit short.
Instead of walking the stage, her education lingered. After high school, Macias said she fell into the wrong crowd. Once she married and started having kids, day care was the biggest obstacle.
“It was really hard to find a day care that was in my price range,” Macias, 27, said, now of Hammond.
Through her daughter’s preschool, she discovered a Hammond charter school that would provide free childcare.
When the Excel Center opened its latest location in Hammond last summer, it also included a day care center to give students like Macias a better chance to finish high school, said Cindy Cavenaugh, director of the Hammond location.
The charter school’s goal is to reach adult dropouts and others aged 18 and older, offering tuition-free classes to help them finish their high school degree. Its enrollment is 141 students, Cavenaugh said.
“We are trying to remove the barriers for them so they can be productive and go on and get a job that will sustain their family,” she said.
About 25 percent to 30 percent of students have children in the day care, Cavenaugh said. About 46 children total are enrolled, with 30 regularly attending on average.
“We know for our students, one of the barriers in completing their degree is childcare,” Early Childhood Services Director Rose Loraff said. “If you’ve ever looked into the cost of childcare, it is ridiculously expensive.”
“If we offer high quality care for their child and education for their child while they are getting an education, we are even a prevention model for the children to not have to return here as adults,” she said.
Students come primarily from Hammond, she said. Others come from East Chicago, Gary and a few from Highland and Munster. They attend accelerated eight-week classes while working toward a CORE 40 diploma, she said. To complete degree requirements, they also have to earn dual credits or get an industry-certified certificate, Cavenaugh said.
When students enroll, they are assigned to a life coach — that act like a counselor and also connect them to resources that help overcome obstacles that would stop them from coming to class, such as emergency bills.
“I am basically their advocate,” said Viet Vy, 28, a life coach at the school. “I talk to them about where they are at right now with their credits. What’s required to graduate from here. I help them through their personal issues that they may have that would impede their education.”
A Gavit High School graduate, he said he could relate to students with obstacles to completing their degree. After graduation, he underwent EMT training, became a father at 19 and struggled to juggle demands while returning to college online at 24.
“I was working three jobs with a high school diploma,” he said. “It was still hard.”
Most students come to the school with around 15 credits, he said, with about 25 to go to graduation.
His advice is to “just keep going,” he said. “It’s not going to be perfect everyday. I’d say done is better than perfect.”
After transferring, Macias discovered she would need 10 to 11 credits for graduation. When she graduates in June, she wants to go to college to become a registered nurse.
“They make a lot of money and I like helping people,” she said.
The school’s charter is held by Goodwill LEADS Inc., an offshoot of Goodwill Industries. There are 11 total Excel Centers in Indiana.