Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Diploma program offers adults new opportunities

By Lee Sawyer
Journal Inquirer
February 15, 2006

VERNON - Kasey Coon didn't know where to turn when an injury ended his career as a truck driver at age 39.

"At the age of 17 I had dropped out of school, not seeing the big picture, and went to work full time," said Coon, of Vernon.

Two decades later, without a diploma, and unable to continue driving, Coon seemed to be running out of options.

"That's when I walked into Mr. Tariff's office and he introduced me to this new program."

Richard Tariff is the director of Vernon Regional Adult Education, and the opportunity he introduced to Coon was the external diploma program, a rapidly growing initiative that allows adults to earn high school diplomas without ever setting foot in a traditional classroom.

On Monday, Tariff updated the Board of Education on the progress of the 2-year-old program.

"When I originally presented the program to the board, someone asked me how many people I thought would enroll. I said maybe eight to ten," Tariff said.

"I am proud to announce that last year we had 17 graduates. There are currently 34 people enrolled in the program."

One of those graduates was Coon.

"It's one of the best things I've ever done in my life," Coon told the board.

"It not only made my everyday life better, and my family's everyday life better, but it's made me more aware of everything around me."

Coon said the work wasn't easy, and he was intimidated at first, but his facilitators helped him build the confidence to meet the challenge.

"The work got harder, but I worked harder," Coon said.

One of the facilitators, Joanne Hachey, told the school board, "It's a program that is suited for people who have been away from the traditional classroom for a number of years, and really don't want to go back and sit next to younger students who aren't serious about getting an education."

She said the program allows adults to use life and job skills to demonstrate proficiency in academic subject areas.

The program begins with an individualized assessment of the student's academic skills, followed by a series of assignments that take between eight and 10 hours a week to complete.

Employers often are asked to submit evaluations outlining the student's job skills.

The entire program is conducted through one-on-one meetings between the student and the facilitator.

Hachey said that for many, this individualized attention is a key in helping adult diploma-seekers overcome their anxiety about resuming their education.

"Some people are very sensitive about not having their high school diploma, so they like the confidentiality," Hachey said.

Completion of the program averages anywhere from six months to a year depending on the student's progress, according to Tariff.

To graduate, the student must be able to show proficiency in all the academic areas that the state requires of high school graduates.

The diploma that the graduates receive is recognized nationwide by employers and universities.

Several graduates have gone on to college or to better careers after finishing the program, according to facilitator Gail Smith.

The external diploma program is based in the CT Works building at 893 Main St. in Manchester. For more information, call 643-2222, ext. 24, or visit the academic program section on the Web site:

©Journal Inquirer 2006