PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Proving you’re never too old to better yourself by getting a high school education, two mother-son duos recently graduated from the SAD 1 Adult Education program.
Lisa Chouteau, 44, lived in Washburn until she was 16, at which time her family moved to Pawhuska, Okla.
“We moved when I was a junior in high school,” she said. “It was a big change going from 40 kids in your class at Washburn to 300-plus students. I was a senior when I decided to quit school. The adjustment was just too hard.
“After I got done school, I got married and started having kids [including son Frank Koch, now 19],” said Chouteau. “I always wanted to go back to school but when you get busy with kids, it’s easy to put it off and put it off. Before Frank and I moved up here, we decided we were going to get our GEDs, so we did the GED classes and right before we were to do the testing, Frank got into a car accident, so that put that plan on hold.” General Educational Development certificates are equivalent to a high school diploma.
Koch opted out of school during his sophomore year.
“I was working a full-time job and felt it was better to work than to go to school,” he said. “I decided to go to night school and one of my teachers pretty much called me and four other students ‘worthless’ and that we ‘shouldn’t be in the class,’ so I decided to drop out. I didn’t go to school after that.”
After Chouteau and Koch moved to Mapleton last June, they looked into SAD 1’s adult education program.
“I signed up first,” said Koch, who completed his studies last fall. “I knew I could get better jobs with my diploma, plus you can’t go to college without a high school diploma. I think I want to go to college … maybe Orono if that’s possible; I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do.”
“I said, ‘If you finish it [high school], then I’ll do it,” Chouteau said, “so I signed up for the next semester.”
While Chouteau and Koch were never in the same class, they’re happy they graduated together.
“It was cool,” she said. “At first I thought it was kind of silly me going to high school at 44, but my fiance [Rich Wark] and Frank both said I could do it, so I did. It was as much for myself as for Frank. I’d like to take some online classes in medical coding and knew that I would need my high school diploma in order to do that.”
Koch, who also works at Bonanza Steakhouse, had classes during the day Tuesdays and Wednesdays for 15 weeks, while his mother had classes during the day Monday and at night on Tuesdays.
“I work at Ag World and my boss was good enough to work around my schedule,” Chouteau said. “I’d take my homework to work and on my lunch break I’d be in my car working on it.”
Both Koch and Chouteau would recommend the adult education program to anyone who hasn’t finished high school.
“The teachers actually sit down and work with you and help you get your work done. If you don’t understand it, they’ll explain it to you,” he said. “It’s kind of like one-on-one.”
“You’re not made to feel like a so-called loser for dropping out,” Chouteau said. “They treated us with respect and I enjoyed it a lot. If it wouldn’t have been for Rich and Frank encouraging me, I probably never would have gone back, but they were very supportive and I’m glad I did it.”
Irene Sutton and her son, Kenneth Reno, also graduated from the adult education program.
Originally from Lowell, Mass., Sutton moved to Presque Isle almost three years ago, while Reno joined his mother a little over a year ago.
“I became pregnant with Kenneth my senior year and dropped out,” said Sutton, 39. “I was failing school at the time and I don’t think I would have made my full year even if I wasn’t pregnant.”
Family issues became a distraction for Reno who ended up quitting his senior year, as well. He later realized the importance of an education and decided to try again.
“I figured I wanted to better my education and get my high school diploma,” the 21-year-old said. “I wasn’t getting that many job offers when I had no education.”
“He also told me his reason for moving up here was for a fresh start,” said Sutton. “I brought him to the adult ed office to check it out and then I found out that getting your diploma was free; back in Mass. it’s not. When I found that out and that I only needed so many credits, I said, ‘Sign me up.’”
Reno needed one-and-a-half credits while Sutton needed three full credits and two half credits.
“I needed one credit in English and a half a credit in U.S. history,” he said. “We both started in the fall, but I finished in November because I had less credits to earn. My Mom had to take a few classes the following semester, but I came back to graduate in May.”
Sutton said she was “proud” to go back to school.
“I have a learning disability and all my life everybody kept saying that I was at a math and reading level of a third-grader,” she said, “so to actually finish high school, was a proud moment for me. Being older than most of the other students made me nervous, but after a while, the age difference didn’t matter as we were all after the same goal.”
Currently working at McDonald’s, Reno said he’s thinking about going to college.
“I might go to NMCC. I’m not really sure,” he said.
His mother, on the other hand, has her career goals clearly defined.
“I want to be a veterinarian technician,” she said. “I own a farm, so that would save money in the long run as I would practice from home. I can take classes online or at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. We both plan to use our diplomas to better ourselves.”
Reno was so impressed with the program that he recommended it to one of his friends.
“My buddy, Victor, didn’t make it through high school so when he realized that I was going back to school to get my high school diploma, he was interested, so I pointed him in the right direction and he signed up,” he said. “[I’d recommend it] to make people feel better about themselves, and to help them shine. It’s a way to make yourself, your family and your friends proud.”
For information on the SAD 1 Adult Education program, call 764-4776 or 764-8100.