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Education Exchange graduates get diplomas

June 22, 2012

2012 Education Exchange Graduates, from left: Melissa Kisilywicz, Danielle Brown, and Elizabeth Reynolds.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN — High school graduation – the cap and gown, the stage, the walk, the ritual congratulatory handshake, the diploma –is a rite of passage for teenagers transitioning into adulthood, the beginning of the future away from parents and home, whether to college or a job, or pursuing some other path. But what if graduation doesn’t happen on schedule, what then?

On Wednesday, June 20 at 7pm, thirty adult graduates will walk that triumphant walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas at the Education Exchange in Peace Dale, RI. Among them is Danielle Brown and she is ready after months of preparation and years of intention. Brown isn’t a teenager; she’s 32 years old, a mother and wife, with years of training and experience in a full-time job. It has taken great motivation and perseverance for her to don the cap and gown after two previous attempts to earn her GED. A special program at the Education Exchange helped her to succeed in earning her high school diploma.

In Rhode Island, there are two ways for adults to earn a high school diploma after high school. First is the General Educational Development (GED) tests that are a group of five subject tests which, when passed, certify that the taker has high school-level academic skills. Second, the External Diploma Program (EDP), is for adult learners who are not comfortable taking the GED exams but have skills based on life experience. Through EDP these adults can earn a high school diploma by demonstrating high school level skills in real-life situations.

The structure of the EDP worked for Brown, who had decided to pursue the GED again last summer, but this time she was intimidated by the test itself. “The GED is sitting in a classroom two nights a week, after working 12 hour shifts, and the thought of 8 hours of testing for the GED was not my cup of tea,” she said.

Brown said, “The EDP is more hands-on, more stuff I would do at home. I read “newspaper articles and did research. I never read newspapers before and most of my information came from the New York Times.” Instead of sitting for tests, the EDP evaluation involved going in front of an assessor, who asked questions, which Brown was required to answer 100% correctly. “It’s closed book, so it’s all memory,” said Brown.

When she was a sophomore in high school, Brown said she made “the worst decision of my life – to quit school.” At age 16 she moved from Maine to Rhode Island with her father and got a full-time job. She started GED classes but when she was switched to second shift at her job, she had to drop out from the program.

But Brown did not give up. At age 19, she gave birth to her first son and started GED classes again, but found she could not handle motherhood, work, and education – something had to give so she let go of her GED classes. She kept working and raised her son. At age 24, Brown had another son and realized “ I needed a better paying job to support my growing family.” She had the good luck to land a job as a veterinary technician with a local veterinarian who was willing to train her as well as overlook her lack of GED.

She is now an expert in animal dentals and phlebotomy. Even though she loves her job, Brown was unsure of her long-term job security because her boss was diagnosed with a severe illness. This triggered her to go back one more time to get her diploma. “I decided to go back to school for my family,” Brown commented.

One of the best parts of graduating is the impact on her kids, “It teaches them; they’re getting inspired, ” Brown commented, “I’m reading adult books now. I read more now. We read to him (Dylan, age 7); he reads to us.” Brown laughed, “I did everything backwards: kids, marriage, house, then diploma.” Bursting with pride, she is about to reach a long-desired goal and her husband and two boys will be present to cheer her on. “I did it,” she added, “If I did it, with all this in my life, then anybody can do it.”

Another soon-to-be graduate who will receive her diploma on June 20 is Melissa Kisilywicz, age 32. In contrast to Brown’s route to graduation, Kisilywicz chose the GED test. A wife, mother of three, and small-business owner, Kisilywicz was motivated in part by her son who is a junior in high school. “I wanted to graduate from high school before my son did.

"He’s graduating next year,” she said. Kisilywicz gave birth to her son when she was 14 and wanted to continue her education but “there was no childcare and it was very difficult to manage school,” she commented.

At age 18, she had her first daughter; “It was too difficult to get the GED, so I decided to back off and wait longer,” she said. When she was 27, she and her husband had another daughter who is going to Kindergarten in the fall, which nudged Kisilywicz toward accomplishing her goal. In addition, she said, “I have ADHD and anxiety, and I wanted to prove to my son who has ADHD that it is possible. The sky’s the limit because I can further my education now, whether my son is in college with me or not.” She is optimistic about the future. “I like helping people, so maybe I should be a therapist – I’m still figuring out career options,” she said.

Also walking across that stage will be Elizabeth Reynolds, age 27, who saw the Education Exchange booth at the Washington County Fair last summer. She had quit school at age 17 because of medical problems and had been planning to get her GED this year because her son is going into Kindergarten.

Reynolds plans to do the Transitions to College program at the Education Exchange. “I will do more of a GED program to get more English and Math so when I do college I will have more academic standing behind me, ” she commented “I’m planning on going for Veterinary Technician and Technology at URI,” which is a 2-year program that leads to as an Associates Degree.

For anyone thinking about the GED or EDP programs, she said, “It’s the best choice they’ll ever make because once you have that credential a whole new world opens up to you.” She also commented, “If you are having trouble getting started, come in the Education Exchange and talk to Lou (Louise Finian, Student Services Coordinator), or talk with Peg (Peggy Benz, Executive Director).”

The Education Exchange graduation is one of many ceremonies happening in Rhode Island for adult GED- and EDP-earners. It is estimated that there are 150 or more adults graduating from adult diploma programs around the state this June. The Education Exchange also has many other programs available such Transitions to College, Work and Job Readiness, and English Literacy and Civics Education. For more information, go to


Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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