Evening graduates

Some overcome obstacles to gain diplomas

Some overcome obstacles to gain diplomas

June 04, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

Nicole Cunningham-Smith tried to hold the tears at bay Thursday night as she stood before her fellow Evening High School graduates and told her story of a second chance.

As a high school senior, Cunningham-Smith was attending summer school for remedial work on a functional test she needed to graduate. She was told she still wouldn't be able to graduate because she failed biology.

"I was so devastated and I walked out," said Cunningham-Smith, 22, of Hagerstown.

Almost five years later, she returned to school to earn her high school diploma in hopes of a better future. She made the decision after losing her job three days before Christmas because GST AutoLeather was closing its cutting plant near Williamsport.


"I have achieved my goal, which is to be here tonight," she said at the lectern in the Washington County Technical High School's cafeteria. Approximately 90 people watched the ceremony.

In the fall, she will attend Hagerstown Community College to study medical coding and billing. A medical job should be more flexible and stable than her job with the tannery, which laid her off periodically before the plant closed, she figured.

The Evening High School, which started in the fall of 1988 with 34 students, gives students who face obstacles on the path to graduation an opportunity to persevere and get their high school diplomas, said Robert J. Beard Jr., coordinator of alternative educational programs.

Those obstacles could include returning to fulfill their graduation requirements after dropping out, needing to attend school at night and work during the day to support their families or just being better suited for night classes because they had trouble getting to school in the morning, Beard said.

The school is based at the South Hagerstown High School campus, but classes are offered at other sites and might be expanded to satellite sites in Boonsboro and Smithsburg in the fall, he said.

This year the school graduated 33 students, 14 of whom attended Thursday's ceremony.

Approximately 400 students attended the school over the course of the past school year, Beard said.

Marvin Spigler, 18, of Hagerstown, said Evening High School allowed him to save money faster so he can start studying auto mechanics at Lincoln Technical Institute in Columbia, Md., after high school graduation.

Spigler worked at The Bon Ton during the day and attended classes at night.

The school also helped him make up credits he lost when he transferred from Waynesboro (Pa.) Area Senior High School to Hagerstown.

"Evening High School made life a little more relaxing," Spigler said.

Beard said Cunningham-Smith was chosen to be the graduation speaker because "she's kind of a reflection of what caused Evening High School to be created in the beginning."

Cunningham-Smith was only in the program for a month, but it was an intense time as she cared for her family, drove to Hancock twice a week for biology class and went to the South High campus at least twice a week to study for her citizenship test.

While students no longer need to pass the Maryland Test of Citizenship Skills to graduate, Cunningham-Smith did because it was a requirement during her senior year, Beard said.

"It was just meant for me at the right time," Cunningham-Smith said.

"It was very, very hard. I had to study between the kids' naps and just stayed focused," Cunningham-Smith said before the ceremony.

Her father, Dan Drury, and her friend, Melissa Borrows, baby-sat for her until her husband or she got home, she and her husband, Derrick Smith, said.

Before Cunningham-Smith lost her job, her husband was considering returning to school to earn his high school diploma and the couple was trying to buy a house, Derrick Smith said.

Instead, she went back to school and he kept his construction job to support the family, which includes Alexis, 3, and Bruce, 9 months.

"It's been a rough road. Tight times, but with this we'll be back on top," said Derrick Smith, 23.

The Herald-Mail Articles