Second local option for dropouts in 2 years

Goodwill Education Initiatives hopes to open a charter school in Columbus in two years, giving high school dropouts a new opportunity to earn their diplomas.

The Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization plans to open the Columbus center by July 2020, said Kent Kramer, president and CEO of Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana.

An application filed with the Indiana Charter School Board to open several Excel Centers across the state, including one in Columbus, was approved last June.

“We know there’s a need in Bartholomew County,” Kramer said, referring to 6,500 county adults without high school diplomas.

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Dropouts are able to earn their diplomas and receive free tuition by attending the Excel Center, which has the capacity to serve 300 students. Free childcare and bus passes are also offered to students, who have the option of taking morning, afternoon or evening classes, Kramer said.

Goodwill opened its first charter school in 2010 in Indianapolis, where it currently has five locations, and plans to open another in Decatur Township next month.

Seven other Excel Centers exist in central and southern Indiana. They operate in Anderson, Clarksville, Kokomo, Lafayette, Noblesville, Richmond and Shelbyville.

An Excel Center in Muncie is slated to open in July, and Bloomington will see an Excel Center open next summer, Kramer said.

The Excel Center, which provides five 8-week classes, gives students an opportunity to earn certifications in a variety of fields. Those include welding, certified medical assistant and pharmacy technician, among others, Kramer said.

“We know there’s a desire and a need for the skills coming out of the Excel Center,” Kramer said. “We work with the students to get them the certifications they need.”

Students enrolled at the Excel Center are paired with life coaches, individuals that Kramer described as a guidance counselor and social worker.

Life coaches assist students in overcoming obstacles they might be facing, Kramer said. That also involves helping them be prepared for life after the Excel Center, including post-secondary educational opportunities, he said.

“They’re there from the beginning to the end and navigate them to success,” Kramer said.

A study by Goodwill found that of the first 2,000 graduates who earned their high school diploma, 38 percent went on to college, Kramer said. Seventy-six percent of individuals were able to graduate or were still in college at Ivy Tech Community College, which Goodwill partners with.

“It makes sense to point them in that direction,” Kramer said.

Goodwill, which receives its funding from the Indiana legislature, intends to approach lawmakers in the first quarter of 2019 concerning funding, Kramer said. A location for the Excel Center site in Columbus has not yet been determined, he said.

The adult education program through Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. is offered at McDowell Education Center, 2700 McKinley Ave.

It helps adults prepare to take the Indiana High School Equivalency Test, prepare for career opportunities and increase educational levels.

The McDowell program is available to local individuals who have withdrawn from high school and are at least 16. Classes are free and materials are provided.

Bill Jensen, assistant superintendent for secondary education, said he is pleased with the McDowell program and noted that BCSC intends to continue to offer its services even if the charter school opens locally.

“It’s a very effective program and has been recognized for that,” Jensen said. “We’re pleased with the level of performance.”

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The Excel Center, which offers high school dropouts to earn their diplomas, opened its first location in Indianapolis in 2010.

Free tuition is provided to participants who attend classes Monday through Thursday. Individuals may also earn certifications in different fields and receive free bus passes and childcare if needed.

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