Goodwill’s high school always evolving, offers better future for parents

Goodwill Excel Center 2019 grads

The difference between the income potential of a high school graduate and a person with a General Education Development certificate or GED can be as much as $1,600 a month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But for most adults without a diploma, there’s little choice but to earn a GED. For adults who speak a language other than English, the problem is compounded. Parents in this situation, especially those with young children, find themselves with few prospects. 

So for Anisa, a native Farsi speaker and mother of three, finding the Goodwill Excel Center was life changing. This past May, Anisa, whose name is withheld to protect the privacy of Excel students, graduated with a high school diploma from the Excel Center, along with about 180 other graduates. They’re the fifth graduating class of the Excel Center, the first charter high school for adults in Texas. 

Last week, about 200 new adult students started classes at the Excel Center, part of Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. The Excel Center offers free childcare as well as flexible scheduling options, life coaches to support each student, and tuition assistance, which makes it attractive to parents. For Anisa, that meant she could be in class while her youngest child, Adrina, was enrolled in the Excel Center’s child care program. 

In collaboration with United Way for Greater Austin, which helps fund the Excel Center, offers parents a path toward self sufficiency. “Partnering with United Way has afforded the Excel Center and childcare program to concentrate on a dual-generation educational impact, providing families with wrap-around services,” said Michelle DeGrate, director of development at Goodwill. “The partnership has also provided multiple opportunities to network with other community members who share our mission and has increased awareness of resources and opportunities to seek additional support.”

With a limited English vocabulary, Anisa enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) program before starting her academic classes. At the same time, Adrina’s teachers at the child care center worked with Anisa to integrate Farsi into their classroom so that the learning environment would be better equipped to meet Adrina’s needs. Through a combination of in-class and at-home dual-language learning, Adrina learned to communicate with her teachers and her peers and had become the morning classroom greeter by the time Anisa completed her ESL courses and earned her diploma. 

The Excel Center’s language academy was developed “to support these English language learners who come from countries around the world and a diversity of languages,” said James Yonts, one of the Excel Centers ESL instructors. “Students who commit to studying at Excel leave with much better English to help in their lives as well as contribute to the community.”

Now that Anisa has completed the program, she plans to enroll at Austin Community College, says DeGratre. “Her daughter Adrina has transitioned into a preschool classroom and has increased her vocabulary with the collaboration of her teachers and her mother Anisa,” DeGrate said. “Anisa has been empowered to advocate for her daughter and is able to pursue a career pathway of her choice to help care for her family.”

PHOTO: The fifth class to graduate from the Goodwill Excel Center celebrates their big day. The Excel Center is the only high school in Texas that awards high school diplomas to adults. Contributed by Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. 

NOTE: A version of this article appeared in the Sept 1, 2019, Austin American-Statesman.

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