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Lake Finds Fast Track to Success through HiSet

Thursday, June 22, 2023


His intellect never held Dallin Lake back. He has the capacity to absorb, retrain and recall information about even complex material.

For Lake, the struggles came from his social skills associated with his autism spectrum disorder. He just didn’t fit in, and it so greatly impacted his ability to succeed in a traditional school setting that he gave up trying and dropped out of high school in 2017 when he was 16 years old.  

Dallin Lake“It was definitely really frustrating,” he said. “I felt like it was a punishment for not doing well enough in school. I felt like maybe my intelligence was at fault, not my emotional level and my social skills level. It was disheartening. 

“It made me lose my passion for advanced schoolwork.” 

That changed two years ago when his educational specialist, a member of a team who works with Lake to help him better manage the autism, encouraged Lake to take the HiSET. Similar to the general education development (GED), the HiSET is a test to earn high school equivalency. The specialist pointed Lake to St. Lous Community College’s FastTrack HiSET program, and he excelled.

The program’s educators tested Lake before he started and recognized quickly, he had the ability. Lake did it in three weeks, joining 53 other students to graduate from the program during the 2022-23 academic year. Commencement for the graduates was May 31. 

“Many out-of-school adults have the readiness to achieve their high school equivalency very quickly,” said Kathy Bender, a high school equivalency instructor and transition coordinator for the College’s Workforce Solutions Group. “Our program identifies those students and moves them through the process as fast as they can go – on average, after about 20 hours of work.”

DGLF Backing

STLCC’s HiSET program is offered through its continuing education adult education and literacy section. It helps out-of-school adults achieve high school equivalency quickly, which improves their workforce readiness or prepares them for secondary education. It is supported through a $6,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation (DGLF), which supports organizations that increase access to educational programming, stimulate and enable innovation in the delivery of educational instruction and inspire a love of reading. 

Each year, DGLF awards funds to nonprofit organizations, schools, and libraries within a 15-mile radius of a Dollar General store or distribution center to support adult, family, summer and youth literacy programs. It also offers a student referral program for individuals interested in learning how to read, speak English, or prepare for the high school equivalency exam.  

Unlike traditional GED/HiSET classes, the FastTrack program achieves success through immediate enrollment, flexible hours, a curriculum tailored to each student, skilled and avid instructors and tutors, and by providing HiSET testing vouchers, gas cards and bus tickets for each student. Graduates have immediate support from a dedicated transitions coordinator who guides them through college or job applications and connects them to STLCC’s workforce training programs.

Achieving Success

Once a dropout who had been doubted at his high school, put in classes for the emotionally disturbed and generally marginalized because of his medical condition, Lake did something that he said many doubted he ever could. He succeeded.

In 2022, Lake became a proud holder of a certificate that shows he was able to graduate high school. 

“I’m extremely proud because everyone told me that I wasn’t good enough to do it,” he said. “But when I had that piece of paper, I immediately showed it to everyone on social media, family came in from out of town and I put it everywhere.”

Soon after finishing the program, Lake remained at STLCC to earn a medical assistant certificate and has worked in the field for just over a year. He says he hopes to come back to the College to get an associate degree in nursing with a goal to someday become a nurse practitioner. Students, such as Lake, who have disabilities (such as learning disabilities or autism) are encouraged to contact the College’s Access offices at each campus to discuss their needs and potential services.

He has come a long way since grade school. After second grade, his parents decided he’d be better served if they home schooled him. When he got to high school age, they thought it was time for him to be with his peers and to work with educators who were more equipped to challenge him.

As a freshman, he showed his academic prowess. He took Advance Placement classes and went through two semesters of physics work by the end of the first semester. 

But when it came to functioning around other people, Lake struggled. It got to the point that the school decided he needed a different environment than the standard classroom and placed him with students who he said were “emotionally disturbed.” For a year he tried to work through that environment, and it just became too much. 

“I always had that drive for education,” Lake said. “I just didn’t know how. I was really disheartened because I wanted to finish my education, continue to grow and get into college. But everyone was telling me I wasn’t good enough basically.” 

College Ready

Lake bounced around between many jobs in the six years between when he left high school to the time he came to the College. He worked at Wal-Mart, Valvoline Instant Oil Change, warehouse jobs and, at the time he decided to get into the FastTrack program, he was at Dairy Queen.

Lake said the support of the HiSET staff was what he needed. They walked him through every step of the program. 

“The HiSET is not only a test – we help our students create and manage their accounts, identify their short-term and long-term goals, and start to realize those goals once they pass the HiSET,” Bender said.

Soon after he graduated, Lake took his first college class at STLCC. He said the political science course gave him a taste of what being a full-time college student is like and he can’t wait to start. What he liked as much as anything about the experience were his classmates. From where he was in high school, when he struggled to fit in socially, to how he was treated by the other STLCC students, it encouraged him to keep going. 

“Everyone at the college was very welcoming,” he said. “The teacher was very understanding with me and helped me out. My fellow peers in the class, I still talk to some of them today. I really felt like this was the kind of school that I was meant to attend. 

“I felt it was a really good experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

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