Goodwill Excel Center gives adult students a second chance at earning a high school diploma

Kaitlyn Bailey, Editor

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While Goodwill is known for its thrift stores, Cody Chamberlain remembers Goodwill for something much deeper– the chance to confront a lingering regret. 

“I’ve just been beating myself up about it. Like why did I quit, why did I quit,” Chamberlain explained.

A drop out of Fulton High School in Fulton, MO, Chamberlain has been working full-time at Waffle House. So when he heard about the Goodwill Excel Center, he couldn’t help but call instantly. 

“I was wanting to go back to school, but it’s very expensive for people over 21,” Chamberlain said. “So when I found out I had an opportunity like this, I wanted to take advantage of it and it’s been amazing.” 

In 2017, former Gov. Eric Greitens signed the bipartisan legislation that allowed MERS Goodwill, a nonprofit most commonly known for its thrift stores, to open four adult high schools in Missouri. The Columbia school opened in October of this year, and is the fourth in the state of Missouri.

The school provides free daycare, free parking, free transportation, and access to a cafeteria. The school also has daytime and nighttime classes to accommodate work schedules, according to Mike Reynolds, the schools director. 

“We want to take away as many roadblocks as we can so students can achieve their dreams,” Reynolds explained. “I think taking away the roadblock of no childcare, no fees and no expense, and no transportation, has been very helpful when it comes to our enrollment.” 

Currently 155 students are enrolled at the Excel Center. Students at the Excel Center are required to earn the same 24 credits as any student in the state of Missouri would, according to Reynolds. This includes one credit of physical education, and a semester of both personal finance and health. Leeanne Hendrick, english teacher, says this is a good thing. 

“Because we are focusing on mastery, rather than just come and sit in a seat and warm it, we are making sure our students are ready to either go into college or into another program,” Hendrick said. “We want to help our workforce, and part of that is making sure they know the skills they need to do well in the community.” 

The school also provides life coaches, similar to counselors, for students to talk to about their life or classes. Hendrick says much of what they do, other than teaching students content, is self-confidence building.

“I hope when you talk to our students they tell you this is nothing like what it was in high school,” Hendrick said. “We work on the whole person, rather than just the education side of things. That’s really important because some of our students have drawn conclusions about themselves that aren’t true, and we try to dispose of those things that they have believed about themselves for many years now and reassure them that they can do it.” 

As for Chamberlain, he plans to attend Moberly Area Community College to study business. 

“After all of this is said and done, I’m excited for what’s gonna happen after this,” Chamberlain said.

There are an estimated 500,000 adults, age 21 and older, without a high school diploma in Missouri. In Columbia Public Schools, 139 students dropped out of high school in 2017, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

You can find more information at mersgoodwill.com or by calling the Excel Center at 573-499-1220.

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