Adult high school students turn their lives around in the halls of Durham Tech

Bobby Tate offered words of wisdom as he stared out over the students seated in Dr. Dorene MacKinnon’s Academic Study Skills class on Monday morning.

“Don’t do what I did,” Tate said. “Don’t waste your time. Surround yourself with good people. You can do this.”

Tate was 47 years old when he earned his high school diploma in May 2017 from Durham Tech and said he was determined to get his life back on track.

“I wasn’t coming to school to waste my time anymore,” Tate said.

An army of support stood behind him in the College and Career Readiness division at Durham Tech, which is home to the Adult High School program where 81 students, ages 25 and older, are enrolled.

“I’m so proud of Bobby and I’m so thankful for him,” said Dr. MacKinnon, Lead Resource Specialist at Durham Tech. “I always told Bobby that we’re here to walk with you on this journey. If you need me, know that I’m here.”

Whether it was helping Tate solve a math equation at 7 a.m. or proofreading an essay before he submitted, MacKinnon provided the extra support needed to help Tate succeed.

“It was surprising to go from people not caring what I do to someone saying, ‘I’ve got your back. If you need me, call me. Don’t quit,’ ” Tate said. “I’ve never had support like that before. I’ve seen it on TV, but I didn’t think it happened in real life.”

MacKinnon said some students have faced additional obstacles to success, but the College and Career Readiness team have a commitment to support.

“We’ve seen students with real life issues that we’ve had to help with,” MacKinnon said. “We love and value our students and we have a commitment to supporting them. That keeps us coming back with a renewed spirit each day.”

Resource specialists take a holistic approach, connecting students with the resources they need to be successful in all areas of their lives. In addition to help with their academics, students benefit from a GoPass for transportation, lunch passes to the cafeteria, assistance finding part-time jobs, and ultimately transitioning to college.

Different Levels of Success

Dr. Marguerita Best, Director of Adult High School at Durham Tech, is proud to report that 60 students graduated with their high school diploma last year, but insist the measure of success is not that cut and dry.

“We had students that previously attended public school and showed up to class 80 out of 180 days. If I can get them to come 90 days to this program – that’s success,” Best said. “There are different levels. Some students never showed up to public school, but have perfect attendance here. They might not earn the credits to go along with it, but half the battle is won because they’re showing up.”

Jermaine Lunsford, 29, was one of these students.

“In the typical person’s eye, Jermaine was probably not a success, but in our eyes he is a success,” MacKinnon said. “When he was enrolled in my class, he sat in the back of the classroom, did not turn in his work and received an F, but he came every single day. Why did he come every day? He came to hear me tell him, ‘Jermaine, you’re better than this. You know you can do better. You know your kids need you to be a good father. You need to step up.’ ”

At the end of the semester, Lunsford told MacKinnon he recognized he didn’t do well and that she would start to see an improvement.

Lunsford kept his word and his grades reflected the change.

“I knew I would see a different Jermaine that next semester,” MacKinnon said. “He just needed to sit in the back of the classroom and have everything marinate – success again. Sometimes success is just getting yourself together. We don’t know what’s going on at home for these students. Sometimes they just need to come here, feel welcomed, relax and hear us say, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ ”

Lunsford said he is forever grateful for the support he received.

“When I was in public school, I felt like it was me against them and when I initially started coming here, I felt the same way,” Lunsford said. “But once I finally realized that Dr. Mac, Dr. Best, Ms. (Stesha) Little and Mr. Phil (Gowins) were only trying to help me, my self-esteem went through the roof and there was no stopping me then. I will always appreciate them and consider them family for what they did for me.”

Transitioning to College

Approximately 25 percent of students who earn their high school diploma transition to college courses at Durham Tech.

“Everyone who teaches in this program, helps prepare you for college. It’s not just getting your high school diploma,” Lunsford said. “There was no greater achievement for me than to go back and graduate from high school, but it’s an even better achievement to know in a couple of months I’ll be graduating from college.”

Lunsford will graduate in May 2018 with an associate degree in Criminal Justice Technology before transferring to North Carolina Central University in the fall.

Bridgett Moran, 28, dropped out of high school in the 9th grade. After becoming a single mother at 23, she wanted to provide a better life for her daughter and knew education was the only way to get there. Moran enrolled in the Adult High School program at Durham Tech and earned her diploma in May 2017.

“The program completely changed me,” Moran said. “Now I want a career so my daughter looks up to me and knows that Mommy is doing well.”

Moran enrolled in the Esthetician Technology program at Durham Tech immediately after earning her diploma and anticipates graduating in May 2018.

“Before I started this program, I didn’t know how to set goals,” Moran said. “I was just going day by day. I want to give my daughter a good life. If I don’t start somewhere it won’t happen.”

Today, Tate is working towards earning an IT Foundations Certificate to begin a career in information technology and visits MacKinnon’s classes on a regular basis to encourage current students in the program.

“I’m finally at a place where I can tell someone that I did it,” Tate said. “They can do it too.”