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Program gives adults new route to diplomas

March 23, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Linda Tritch was an honor-roll student at North Hagerstown High School when, at 16, she dropped out to get married.

That's what you did, generally, when you found yourself pregnant, said Tritch, now 50. As a teen, she dreamed of becoming a nurse.

"You did something stupid, you did the next stupid thing," said Tritch, whose son, Phil, was born three days before her 17th birthday.

For years, Tritch said she thought about going back to school but figured her family's needs came before her own.

It took a bout with breast cancer in 1992 and two mastectomies to realize she should be attending to her needs. Tritch at last earned her high school diploma last month through the Maryland External Diploma Program.

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"It didn't affect anything I attempted to do. I think I just felt bad because I didn't finish," said Tritch, a cake decorator at Martin's on Wesel Boulevard. "I'm one of those people who just hates when something isn't finished."

Tritch learned about the self-study program, which allows students to use things they've learned in life to earn a high school diploma, in November through a newspaper advertisement.

It turned out that the required work - based on applied knowledge exercises like budgeting for a vacation, writing a consumer complaint letter, explaining a first-aid procedure and giving directions - was interesting and fun, she said.

"It's a good program. It really is, especially for people who've been out of school for a while," said Tritch, who plans to take part in the formal graduation ceremony on June 18 with her proud mama Gladys Staley, of Smithsburg, looking on.

"This is something my mother has looked forward to for 32 years," she said.

Students who complete the program earn the same high school diploma as students who graduate from a regular high school, said Nettie Schubel, an adviser/assessor for the External Diploma Program in Washington County.

Yet the program doesn't require attending classes or sitting through a long test, required by students who take the General Educational Diploma or G.E.D. route to a Maryland high school diploma, Schubel said.

It does require a strong commitment on the part of students, who do all the assignments on their own, she said.

Adviser/assessors don't do any teaching during their weekly meeting, set to fit into the student's work schedule, Schubel said.

Their job is to assess the student's work, tell them what areas they need to work on and provide encouragement to continue, she said.

"There's no pass or fail," she said. "Once you get in, there's no fail, you keep going until you get it."

The program runs year-round so students can work at their own pace, Schubel said.

It usually takes four to six months, but can be shorter or longer based on the student's individual circumstances.

The first half of the program requires students to demonstrate basic reading, writing and math skills with three tests, said Janice Crowell, another adviser/assessor with the program.

The second half consists of five task packets that students complete at home, Crowell said.

One exercise, for example, requires students to fill out a job application, write a resume and a letter of application and come up with questions they'd ask during an interview, she said.

"In a sense they're assessing skills they supposedly already possess, that they've already learned through everyday living," Crowell said.

For Mike Howard, 30, of Boonsboro, the program was preferable to the G.E.D. route recommended by school officials.

"I just can't imagine sitting down six hours for that G.E.D. I'd be bouncing around all over the place," said Howard, who dropped out of South Hagerstown High School at 16 and soon after began working full-time as a welder.

Howard, who started the program in December, has just one task - evaluate a live performance - left to complete for his diploma.

It will be both a relief and a victory, said Howard, who said he had just had enough of school after his family's frequent moves.

Don't look for him at the graduation ceremony, however.

"I just want the diploma and get out of Dodge," said Howard, who has no plans to change jobs but is looking forward to the freedom of being able take college classes if he chooses to.

The Maryland External Diploma costs $150, which can be paid in installments, Schubel said.

Students must be 18 years old, reside in Maryland and pass a pre-evaluation test, she said.

The next pre-admission test session is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 8 at the Washington County Career Studies Center. Cost is $5.

For more information, call 791-4166.

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