Crystal Beyers was a good student who loved math growing up in Jefferson.

But her journey to graduating from high school came to an abrupt halt at age 16, when she left school to work two jobs and support her younger sister, who was pregnant and struggling with homelessness.

“My mom basically told me I had to quit school and take care of her,” Beyers said. “I was quite tall at 16.”

Beyers, now 41, has always wanted to go back to school and graduate. She tried three times over the years to get her GED, but found that as a working mother of two daughters, it was difficult to attend in-person classes.

In 2021, Beyers was offered a job as a jailer at the Greene County Sheriff’s Office on one condition: She had to graduate from high school equivalency.

Jefferson's Crystal Beyers poses in her cap and gown minutes before entering the Meadows Conference Center for the start of the DMACC High School Equivalency Graduation Ceremony on July 10.

Beyers qualified for the “Bridges to Success” program through Des Moines Area Community College, which allowed her to take classes, take practice tests and meet with a coach remotely. She completed her high school equivalency test just one month after enrolling.

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“Just the ease of the program, it was great,” Beyers said. “I could work at my own pace and schedule my tests and then go and take them. There wasn’t a lot of ‘away from my family’ time.”

On Sunday, Beyers was one of nearly 140 graduates who walked the stage at DMACC’s largest high school equivalency graduation ceremony.

“So Much Joy and Excitement”: A Closer Look at the HiSET DMACC Program

The HiSET was introduced in Iowa in 2014 to replace the GED as the assessment tool used to award high school equivalency degrees in the state. There are 23 states who use the HiSET rather than the GED.

The HiSET is a series of five tests covering writing, science, math, social studies, literature and the arts. Through the DMACC HiSET programIowans who want to earn their high school equivalency diploma have access to free tuition, coaching, testing, and resources.

“What’s most rewarding about our program is that it’s competency-based,” said Eric Sundermeyer, associate director of adult education and literacy at DMACC. “We will have students progressing to their equivalency degree at any time of the year. So we have students graduating every month of the year, and we always have a student graduating.”

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DMACC alumnus Vinh Nguyen, who works at Lutheran Services in Iowa and gave this year's graduation speech, helps organize the graduates' approximately 140 minutes before they head to the center for conference to receive their diploma.  Nguyen is also currently a HiSET Adjunct Instructor at DMACC.

According to Sundermeyer, the program is unique because of the flexibility of adult learners’ busy schedules.

“There are so many circumstances they go through, so a traditional class sometimes doesn’t work,” Sundermeyer said. “We have classes offered during the day. We have classes offered in the afternoon. We have classes offered in the evening. a whole new level of flexibility.”

Approximately 34,000 adults from central Iowa do not have a high school diploma, according to the DMACC. Making courses and resources readily available to workers in Iowa can help change those numbers, Sundermeyer believes.

“I think on the adult education side, sometimes one of the biggest challenges for students is child care or transportation,” Sundermeyer said. “Because we now have offers for them to join remotely at the same time as the course is taking place, it takes both of them away as a barrier for them.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time since December 2019 that the DMACC HiSET program is hosting an in-person graduation ceremony. Graduates of 2020, 2021 and 2022 participated.

“It’s the most rewarding thing we do in our program, being able to see the students and their support systems and having them all there,” Sundermeyer said. “I was in the K-12 system before and had a lot of graduations there, but the equivalency graduation ceremony is like no other you can experience. There is so much joy, excitement and energy there.”

After leaving school to support his family, the Des Moines resident has now graduated

Elmer “Elmo” Nevarez, 28, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and lived in Phoenix, Arizona before moving to Des Moines as an adult. Her bilingual home fueled her love of learning.

Elmer

“I loved language arts and reading because growing up in a Spanish household, Spanish being my first language, and at school I was learning English,” Nevarez said. “So I was able to learn both languages ​​at the same time while using the skills I learned in school.”

Nevarez was about three credits short of a high school diploma, but his family needed him to work.

“Working full time and going to school full time ended up being way too much for me to handle,” Nevarez said. “The need for money at home became more important than the fact that I had to go to school. So that’s what happened. I decided to go to work more and earn more money. money to be able to provide a house with my mother, who was a single mother at the time.”

Nevarez knew he wanted to graduate someday and started looking for high school equivalency options when he moved to Des Moines about two years ago.

“I’ve had some really good things in my life,” Nevarez said. “I have a decent job. So I suggested I should try to get my GED because I needed to do something else with my time and something good.”

He enrolled in the DMACC HiSET program, where he received resources and coaching for approximately four months. The first section of the HiSET test he took was “nervous,” Nevarez said, but he quickly passed all five tests and earned his high school equivalency diploma.

“My coach was really good at pushing me, motivating me to keep doing one after the other to keep my mind fresh, and it worked really well,” Nevarez said. “It was up to me throughout the process, but they made it so easy to do it yourself, and having the coaches there for you at all times really helps.”

Nevarez wants adults returning to school to know they “have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” He was one of the speakers at the graduation ceremony, a role he had prepared for by practicing in front of the mirror.

“It’s just something that I’ve always kind of yearned to do deep down,” Nevarez said. “It’s a great opportunity that I never thought I’d have. It’s amazing. There’s nothing else to be grateful for, because it’s really cool. It was so quick and easy to achieve.”

High school cut short by car crash, Davenport native now graduates

Growing up in Davenport, Jeannie Banks loved school and excelled in history and science.

A car accident during his freshman year of high school changed everything. With her ankle broken and needing crutches to get around, her mother and the school district decided that “going back to high school at that time wasn’t the best idea,” according to Banks.

Jeannie Banks (left) of Ames and Bonnie Young of Colo were two of five student speakers at the DMACC high school equivalency graduation ceremony on July 10.

The district offered her alternative schooling options, but “I was young and stupid and I didn’t want to do this,” Banks said.

She wanted to work in retail or hospitality, career paths she didn’t think would require a high school diploma.

Banks, now 34, finally realized she wanted to pursue a high school equivalency degree.

“I was tired of not graduating from high school,” Banks said. “There was a certain shame in that for me and knowing that I didn’t graduate. And so I just wanted to say that I did. I wanted to have that accomplishment.”

She enrolled in a program in Davenport and switched to the DMACC HiSET program when she moved to Ames.

“It really felt like they were there to help us,” Banks said. “And it was kind of like a hard core of us, so it felt like a community after a while. We were all there for the same reason and we helped each other. And that was probably my favorite part.”

Banks passed the science and social studies tests before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She took the other three during the pandemic, which only added to her nerves.

“The math test was… well, I don’t think I slept at all the night before,” Banks said. “I was as prepared as I could have been, but I was still just a bundle of nerves before that one.”

Nonetheless, she passed all five tests and earned her high school equivalency diploma. She wants others to know that although going back to school as an adult is difficult, the right curriculum and resources make all the difference.

“Even though it’s more difficult, it shouldn’t scare you off,” Banks said. “Especially with DMACC, they’re really great at giving you resources to make sure you’re ready.”

Banks overcame public speaking nerves to deliver a graduation speech, hoping to encourage others to take the plunge and return to school.

“Mostly, I hope people take that no matter how late in life you do it,” Banks said. “It’s something to be really proud of. The future right now looks really bleak because there’s a lot of bad happening in the world, but you can make your own future brighter.”

Grace Altenhofen is a reporter for the Des Moines Register. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @gracealtenhofen.