BENTON, Ark. (KTHV) - From dropouts to graduates, more Arkansans are working toward getting that diploma.
When it comes to the dropout rate, Arkansas ranks in the middle nationally. Arkansas' dropout rate has improved from the last report covering the 2008 - 2009 school year. 75 percent of Arkansas high schoolers achieve their diploma, while a quarter do not.
Stormy Westbrook is now 21 and looks back on her high school days.
"I dropped out of high school when I was 17 just like every high school student, 'I don't need this. I can make it on my own.' Yeah that didn't happen. I figured that out quick," Westbrook said.
She is preparing to take her General Educational Development test, or GED, to get her diploma.
London Lewis and Steven Gutierrez are also working toward their GED as they received guidance from their instructor, Ms. Becky, at the Saline County Adult Education Center.
"I'm horrible with math. It took me I don't know how many tries to get it. I'm pretty sure I gave Ms. Becky half the gray hairs she has on her head right now," Westbrook said.
Lewis left high school in the 12th grade. He now hopes to return to the classroom someday, in a different role, as a coach and teacher.
"If I wasn't hanging around with certain people, and wasn't doing things I was doing I would have passed school. Now that I'm doing the GED, you actually have to work to get it. This stuff is actually hard," Lewis said.
Janice Hanlon is the GED Administrator for the Arkansas Department of Career Education. She cited and a key statistic.
"A person that has either a GED, or a high school diploma, will earn about $10,000 a year more than a person who doesn't have a GED credential or a high school diploma. Certainly that opens the door for a better job or getting into college or a university, technical school [or] getting into the military," Hanlon said.
A career Gutierrez hoped to achieve in the U.S. Army will begin with the military police, and continue in law enforcement when he gets out.
"I told my mom I don't care how long this takes. I'm going to get my high school diploma," Gutierrez said.
Westbrook also has her eye on a law enforcement career. She plans to apply to several police departments to become an officer, with a goal of being a SWAT member.
Her advice to students considering giving up:
"Stay in it because it's not worth sitting around and twiddling your thumbs making minimum wage. Better yourself and be the best person you can be," Westbrook said.
All hope to walk across the stage in June to receive their diplomas.
There are five tests students must take to complete the GED.
The current version will expire at the end of this year, and all those who have started the five required tests need to have them finished, or they will have to start from scratch. Testing fees will also increase at the end of this year from $40 to $120.
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