Bozeman School District’s high school equivalency program has adapted with the COVID-19 pandemic, offering an online exam for the first time and continuing its mission to provide flexible and accessible learning opportunities at any age.
The program and exam, known as the HiSET, provided an online test for the first time, and the district offered flexible options to take classes in person or remote.
This year saw 95 students enrolled in the adult basic education program, with 41 students earning their HiSET diploma, said Shae Thompson, coordinator of the district’s Adult Learning Center.
“The 2020-2021 school year enrollment was close to average, however, the percentage of students completing their HiSET increased,” Thompson said.
The program, which has two instructors, Thompson and Joanna Stratman, offered adult basic education and English Speakers of Other Languages classes.
Due to the pandemic, the program moved to remote-only instruction in the spring of 2020 but by the fall was offering a combination of remote and in-person classes.
Although the program has offered online resources in the past, it was the first time it provided online teaching for the students. Thompson said just under half of the students chose to remain in the program remotely.
“Remote learning and testing turned out to be a great option for students with home or work obligations, transportation or health issues, and for those students whose learning preference is to work online,” Thompson said.
When the pandemic hit, sisters Adeline and Savannah Grosfield and their family experienced housing and financial struggles. The sisters and their other siblings had been home schooled for most of their education. Both sisters graduated from the HiSET program in the last year.
The sisters said they loved homeschooling and appreciated the time their parents devoted to their education. It gave them freedom to explore and a lasting connecting with all of their siblings.
“I have been able to explore what I love, so I know what I want to do with my life,” Adeline said in an emailed response to questions. “I also really love learning. I have some friends that go to school that absolutely hate it.”
Savannah, 21, said during her last year of high school, she and her family had hit a rough patch.
“We were in between homes for about two years and my parents were trying to find a new house for us while dealing with working full-time,” she said in an emailed response. “Housing in Bozeman is pretty pricy and then, of course, the coronavirus hit so you could definitely say they had their hands full.”
Faced with these challenges, Savannah said she decided to take her education into her own hands and enrolled in the HiSET program.
Although she was initially nervous it would take a long time or she might fail, Savannah said her advice for other people is not to be intimidated by the process.
Adeline, 18, said she signed up for the HiSET program because she needed more structure to help her finish the last stretch of high school. She said it’s normally hard to focus on school but that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, financial and housing challenges her family faced.
“We were trying to find a place, move, and deal with the pandemic,” Adeline said. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to graduate this year if I hadn’t signed up.”
Savannah enrolled in the program in September and passed the test three months later. She recently finished her first semester at Montana State University as a film major.
“It felt great to finally put high school behind me,” she said. “I felt proud and fulfilled, and I made my parents very proud.”
Adeline, who started the HiSET program in December, graduated mid-May. She plans to take a few classes in college and get into cosmetics school. She wants to work in a salon while working on launching her art career.
When she first found out she passed her final test, the math portion, Adeline said she didn’t think it was real.
“I’m especially happy I can focus on my art for the summer, and making the new home we are moving into wonderful,” she said. “I guess I feel like it is just another step in life.”
Savannah said she did a majority of the classes online, while Adeline said she completed all of them online. Both said the flexible class options and the continued support from the teachers was a huge help in the program.
“My advice would be to really commit to it,” Adeline said. “It feels hard and scary, and it is, but you can do it. Our dreams are too big to wait.”