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Fast-Track Diplomas

By Juan Carlos Rodriguez
Journal Staff Writer
      Kelly Fernandez is hoping to receive her diploma this summer, but she didn't graduate from high school.
       Fernandez, 17, is one of thousands of New Mexicans who have opted to take the General Education Development — or GED — series of tests instead of attending four years of high school.
       For some, like Fernandez, the decision to go the GED route wasn't because they were kicked out of school or because they flunked out, but rather because doing so provides a faster track to higher education.
       Personal reasons prompted Fernandez to transfer from Amy Biehl charter high school to Del Norte at the beginning of her junior year. However, the transition was not a good one.
       “At Del Norte, I wasn't given anything to analyze. I was given facts, and I was meant to memorize them and spit them back out on paper. And I was never really fond of that kind of learning,” she said.
       Fernandez dropped out and moved into a friend's place, but it quickly became clear to her that education was one of the most important things in her life.
       “My soul was hungry, with nothing to learn,” Fernandez said. “I have always wanted to go to college — the whole open-minded aspect of it is really appealing.”
       Fernandez took her GED tests through Youth Development Inc., an Albuquerque nonprofit focused on helping youths. Juliette Castillo helps run the GED program for YDI, and the former Los Lunas school district administrator said she's glad the kids who come through her doors realize the value of an education.
       “It's a passion of mine because I hate seeing kids not being able to achieve things because they don't have a high school diploma,” Castillo said.
       She said while some kids pursue the alternate diploma because they failed or were kicked out of high school, others do so because they have family commitments, they need to work or they simply want to get on with their lives.
       “We have some really bright young people coming in just because they're bored,” Castillo said. “They're not feeling challenged.”
       Last year, 6,796 New Mexicans took the five GED tests that cover math, science, reading, writing and social studies. Of those, 4,879 passed and earned their “general equivalency diploma,” according to the state Public Education Department.
       Those who want to earn an alternate diploma can take preparatory classes or just study on their own before taking the series of tests.
       Central New Mexico Community College also runs a GED testing program. Steve Sanchez, director of student transitional programs at CNM, said the GED is just as good as graduating from high school.
       “They both are equal, in my professional judgment,” Sanchez said, pointing out that the tests cover all the major areas that high school does. “It is a difficult examination, to say the least. It is what you would have learned in high school.”
       Any financial aid for higher education that is available to high school graduates is also available to those who pass the GED tests, Sanchez and Castillo said.
       At New Mexico State University, GED applicants are processed just like high school graduates as long as the student has taken the ACT test and has the requisite number of high school units in core subjects like math and English, said Bernadette Montoya, assistant vice president for enrollment management at NMSU.
       “As far as differentiating if one is better than the other, we do not do that,” Montoya said.
       She said there are pros and cons to getting a GED rather than attending high school. Good reasons for doing so include personal reasons, and Montoya specifically mentioned young people who have children. But she said drawbacks include missing out on extracurricular activities and a social life at school, as well as the opportunity to have enrichment classes such as advanced placement and honors courses.
       Candice Anzures, 16, is attending CNM after receiving her GED last fall. She dropped out of high school, she said, because she got tired of seeing kids who weren't doing as much work as she was get passed to the next level along with her. She said she tried both Rio Grande and West Mesa high schools, but neither offered the type of learning environment she wanted.
       “It's just a totally different environment. You don't see the same people every day like you do in high school, and there's not so much pressure of who you have to be and who you hang out with. You are just your own person,” Anzures said.
       Anzures has her sights set on transferring to the University of New Mexico and becoming a cardiologist. She was philosophical about not finishing high school.
       “I don't think it's for everybody,” Anzures said. “But I'm going to have a degree before I'm 18.”
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