Photo: Roxanne J. Frith, Roxanne J. Frith/For the Lansing State Journal
Sidick Mahamat came to the United States looking for a better life.
He arrived in Lansing in March 2017 after leaving north Sudan, where much of the nation is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis after years of violence and natural disasters, and enrolled at Lansing Everett High School that same month.
He worked hard, earning high school credits as fast as he could, hoping to earn his diploma, go to college and start a new life in America. But he turned 20 and aged out of high school in June, two credits short of donning a cap and gown and walking in the commencement.
His counselor pointed him to the Lansing School District Adult Education program and one of its new offerings: a path to a diploma.
It kept his hopes alive. He enrolled in the diploma track program in September, two months after leaving Everett.
Mahamat became the first student to complete the new enrollment track program this week. His name now appears on a display of students who earned their GED certificates and diplomas this year, 11 total.
“I’m so excited,” Mahamat said Thursday.
Mahamat now is applying to Lansing Community College. The diploma program helped him earned those last two credits to earn his diploma. Now he wants to go to college and learn to help others.
The diploma track is part of a Lansing adult education expansion introduced this year, joining a career pathways program designed to help people interested in pursuing a career or advancing from an entry level job.
Officials anticipate it will help increase program enrollment. Close to 400 people enrolled last year.
School district Board of Education members approved the diploma plan Aug. 15.
District officials geared the diploma track toward students at least 20 years old who had dropped or aged out of high school before graduating. It brings students back, said Sergio Keck, Adult Education Program Director.
“This has added a cushion in the community,” he said.
It offers eligible students the chance to finish what they started and earn a diploma, rather than going on to a GED certificate, which some researchers say isn’t necessarily the exact equivalent.
Students who receive diplomas learn non-academic skills that GED certificate earners don’t through showing up to school for four years, turning in homework and getting along with students, said said Russell Rumberger, a professor emeritus in the Department of Education at University of California at Santa Barbara.
He's been researching school dropouts for more than 30 years and has written more than 40 research papers and essays on the subject.
Rumberger and others have found differences between a GED certificate and diploma, chiefly the pay.
“Generally, what the research shows is that the payoff for a GED is not as high as the payoff for a high school diploma,” he said.
Mahamat hopes to see that coveted payoff. He plans to stay in the Lansing area, earn a college degree and work in a hospital somewhere.
The adult education program will host a special graduation ceremony on May 31 to celebrate Mahamat and any others who come through to finish their diploma.
"It's never too late to dream big," Keck said.
Contact Mark Johnson at 517-377-1026 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson.