BENNINGTON -- Kenneth Lonergan, 48, said he saw little purpose to finishing high school while growing up in Long Island in the late 1970s. "I dropped out of school and I was making more money than the teachers were making."
Twenty-one-year-old Norman Robinson III, a Bennington native, said he similarly dropped out a few years ago when a job opportunity presented itself. But both eventually found themselves returning to obtain their high school diplomas.
"The high school diploma thing held me back, every job I went to," Lonergan said, after more recently moving to Arlington. "I missed out on a lot of really good jobs. ... They said, ‘We really like you, but you don't have your high school diploma.' ... So I decided it was time to go for it."
"I really wanted it because I felt like going to college," Robinson said. Following his participation in high school graduation ceremonies at Mount Anthony Union through The Tutorial Center's Adult Diploma Program, Robinson said he plans to enroll at Community College of Vermont in Bennington next fall to pursue a computing-related field.
Lonergan, who also earned his diploma last month through The Tutorial Center with the 2013 cohort at Arlington Memorial High School, plans to take classes at either CCV or the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center in business.
With more than two decades separating them, the two graduates reflect the diversity of students in The Tutorial Center program which allows adults the opportunity to earn the high school diploma they never received.
Word of mouth continues to draw new enrollments.
"About halfway through me doing it, I convinced my mother to do it with me, because she dropped out when she had my brother," Robinson said.
The Tutorial Center also benefits from agency referrals and a good working relationship with administrators and guidance counselors in local schools.
Students have ranged in age from 18 to 81, and each takes a different path toward completion based on their interests and learning strengths according to Jena Holmes-Thomas, the program's assessor.
Adult classes are held in both tutorial center locations, in Bennington and Manchester, as well as in Pownal twice a week. The non-profit centers also offer after-school tutoring, a General Educational Development diploma program, employment readiness, adult literacy, and enrichment services.
Supported largely by Vermont Agency of Education and state fee-for-service funds, Executive Director Jack Glade said the centers serve about 350 adults and 200 school-age children on an annual basis between all programs.
Between the two diploma programs and GED recipients, The Tutorial Center can boast the third largest (albeit informal) graduating class in Bennington County with an average 70 students each year.
"We're the only center that does all this," kindergarten through adult, Glade said, serving as a "model of what a community education center can be."
How does the same site serve both 9- and 40-year-olds? "There's an art to it, but it's synergistic," Glade said. Whether nine, in high school, or an adult, "you're all just here to get educated."
After the state Legislature's passage this year of S.130, an education act known as the "flexible pathways" bill, The Tutorial Center will be incorporating the Adult Diploma Program into its High School Completion Program, which is similar but was formerly only offered to those ages 16 to 21.
Glade said the latter program was newer and designed for younger students, both in and out of school, with features like college coursework or internships that have been found to be suitable for older adults as well.
Holmes-Thomas said the hallmark of both programs was how they are tailored to each student. "It can be very specifically focused on that individual," she said.
"The challenge for me was I hadn't been in high school for so long, so I was kind of worried about doing research papers," Lonergan said. Both graduates completed most of their project-based work outside the center, at home.
Glade said the timeframe for completion was different for every student, who enroll whenever they decide to walk in the door.
"We move along as quickly as they want to move along," Glade said. "It's all very student-directed."
For Robinson, the program took a little under a year. After Monday's interview, he said he was going to be calling to inquire about the center's Bridge to College and Careers Program, a partnership with CCV.
Lonergan's studies were put on hold for a year while he battled illness. He returned in January to complete the program. "I found it felt like you never were going to get there," he said. But the center's staff "all want to see you succeed. They're here for you, to help you -- whatever you need."
"So when I finally got there and picked this up, it was a pretty good feeling," Lonergan said, holding his diploma in hand.
Follow @Zeke_Wright on Twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org