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Taking Homeless Education Beyond the GED

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The city of Phoenix and the surrounding metropolitan area generally enjoy moderate weather 9 months of the year. Although this moderate weather brings many permanent and temporary residents, it is also a breeding ground for the homeless population. A 2019 annual report on Homelessness in Arizona estimated the number of unsheltered persons counted statewide on one night was 6,614. Although the report identifies this to be a slight increase over the 2018 number of 6,298, this increase calculates to nearly a 3.4% increase over one year.

Although it would be very difficult to know the exact number of homeless in Phoenix at any given time, officials counted 25,832 homeless people in Maricopa County throughout 2019. On just one night in the same year, there were reported to be 4342 homeless individuals in shelters and 1289 on the streets. 

The Phoenix Rescue Mission reports that 37% of Maricopa County’s homeless are families usually consist of a single mother with children. Working diligently to soften the impact on homeless families and individuals, the Phoenix Rescue Mission provides support and rehabilitative services with a primary mission to change the homeless individual and family’s living situation. In other words, the Mission is not just providing food and shelter, but hope. 

In 2015 the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Vocational Development Manager, Rhonda Webb and Lorie Webster, a senior mentor with Smart Schools developed a partnership to expand education offerings at Phoenix Rescue Mission. This partnership opened additional opportunities and provided additional support to PRM residents participating in the Vocational Development Program. The primary goal of this opportunity was to offer a high school diploma option to Phoenix Rescue mission residents. 

Through Smart Schools online high school diploma program, I was able to see a possibility of a diploma. English, done! Science, done! And OMG, Math. It took me the better part of 6 months to complete all the courses I needed to get my diploma and somehow, I even took an extra semester of Calculus. That was God having a sense of humor because Calculus is not required to graduate. 

Michelle Snyder, May 2018 Graduate

During the span of time between the inception of the partnership and October 2018, there have been 41 successful high school graduates from PRM. To better understand the population served, the following statistics are offered:

  • Average months to complete the diploma requirements – 5

  • Average credits needed at program entry – 11

  • Average credits earned while in the program – 8 

  • Average grade earned – 75%

  • Average Age – 31

In addition to the data offered above, the oldest graduate was 52 and the youngest was 19. There were 12 females and 29 males that took courses. Just over 45% of the graduates were a minority; they were not white. 

Now that I have accomplished my goal of getting a high school diploma with Smart Schools it is time for me to go out there and become the person I have always wanted to become. I have committed myself to another 6 months at Phoenix Rescue Mission, so I can give encouragement to those who are working on their GED or high school diplomas. So, my goal for the next 6 months is to help another individual accomplish their goals. 

Gilbert Hernandez, May 2018 Graduate

The success of this program is driven primarily by the vision of Rhonda Webb and the passionate support of Lorie Webster, Phoenix Rescue Mission, Smart Schools USA, and Grad Solutions, LLC. In addition to Lorie Webster, the Smart Schools leadership and mentor team, Carl Sharak and Rich Becker, played an important part in securing success for these graduates. Their vision, team effort, and dedication to this partnership has provided extensive educational opportunity to those that may have never had access to it. 

After coming to Phoenix Rescue Missing I fond out I could get my high school diploma. I said to myself, “Here’s my chance to get it.” I got enrolled. I dedicated every bit of my free time to working on getting my diploma. I have now earned my diploma, something I thought would never happen. Now I am excited to see all the great opportunities which having high school diploma open for me. 

Jason Brown, January 2017 Graduate

In addition to educational benefit of this partnership, it is estimated that each Arizona dropout carries an economic and social cost of $551,010 over his or her lifetime. Based on that figure, the PRM and Grad Solutions partnership has generated over $22M in social and economic benefits to our society (Arizona Mayors Roundtable-WestEd 2014). The actual total benefit will vary based on the age of the graduate, but based on the average age of the graduates, the partnership has still produced an extensive amount of monetary benefit to society. 

David Reed, Ph.D.

Director of Research & Development

College & Career Readiness