Mike Reynolds, the new director of the Goodwill Excel Center, gives a tour of a new classroom

Mike Reynolds, the new director of the Goodwill Excel Center, gives a tour Monday of the space that will be converted into the adult high school in the old Columbia Tribune building. The new classrooms will open in October, offering diplomas, at no cost, to students over 21 years old.

Enrollment begins Tuesday for a new adult high school opening in the building on Fourth Street being vacated by the Columbia Daily Tribune.

The school is the fourth to be opened by MERS Missouri Goodwill Industries, and classes are scheduled to begin in October.

Called the Goodwill Excel Center, it is a free public high school where those over 21 years old can earn a high school diploma after meeting a 24-credit requirement, said the school’s director, Mike Reynolds. It will also feature a cafeteria and free, on-site child care.

“We want to help individuals get a second chance at getting a high school diploma,” Reynolds said.

A significant portion of the funding comes from two federal programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The rest comes from Goodwill Industries and the state.

The year-round school will be divided into five eight-week terms, and enrollment is projected to be 150 students in five classrooms for the first term, he said.

After the Tribune leaves the building, the center can be expanded to six classrooms.

Everyone who applies will be accepted. Enrollment includes three tests — two handwritten and one online — to determine the academic level of students.

“We want to make the exams as nonthreatening as possible,” Reynolds said. “They’re for us to get a true sense of where students are.”

Curriculum will be the same as traditional high schools, offering classes in core skill sets such as math, science, language arts and social studies. Classes will be tailored by faculty after evaluating test results.

Flexibility is given to students to choose when they want to take classes and how many they want to take, Reynolds said. Classes are available during the day and evening, with child care at all times.

Saundra Perkins, day care director at the center, said on-site child care is a huge benefit for students.

“If I need to get ahold of a parent, they’re already on campus,” Perkins said. “It’s a way for them to be hands-on with their children and their classes at the same time.”

The center will also provide life coaches to help students with personal or school issues. Sheila Ferguson and MariBeth Couch, two of the three life coaches, said they want to make sure students can easily focus on their classes.

“If students are struggling with transportation, we help them out — anything that helps get rid of any barriers they have about going to school,” Ferguson said.

The school will start with 12 teachers — five full-time and seven part-time — who are all certified by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and have different teaching backgrounds.

“We’re picking students up where they left off, not making them start over,” said Jill Campbell, one of the teachers at the center.

Centers have been operating for nearly a year in St. Louis, Springfield and Poplar Bluff. Students there have been taking an average of three classes per term, according to Mark Arens, executive vice president and chief of program services at MERS Goodwill.

So far, it’s too early to tell what the success rate is, but Arens said he has seen students flourish. By December, the three programs are on track to graduate nearly 100 students.

“A lot of our folks have gone onto colleges already, and we’ve been really excited that, in every case we know of, no one has had to take remedial classes,” Arens said.

The history of the program began 10 years ago in Indianapolis after Goodwill started a charter high school there. In some cases, students dropped out or were unable to continue after turning 21, Arens said.

The rigid cutoff made it difficult for individuals to reenter education. The Goodwill Excel Centers provided an opportunity to bridge the gap for nontraditional students by providing actual diplomas, not alternatives.

“High schools are focused on students under 21, and Missouri higher education is focused on high school graduates ready for college,” Arens said. “That space wasn’t adequately served.”

The center’s overall success will be measured differently than traditional high schools, he said.

“Most districts really focus on the percentage of graduates,” Arens said. “But the legislation appropriately has us measured by the number of people upon graduation that go to work or college.”

Reynolds said the center will monitor student success for up to two years after graduation. It will also help students gain industry-recognized credentials.

Reynolds said that down the line, the organization will be planning a partnership with Moberly Area Community College at Parkade for dual credit opportunities.

According to a news release from MERS Missouri Goodwill Industries, about 500,000 people over 21 do not have a high school diploma in Missouri.

“I can see this (school) really helping the local economy and making a difference,” Reynolds said.

  • Education beat reporter at the Columbia Missourian, fall 2019. Studying News Reporting at MU. Reach me at dpanuncial@mail.missouri.edu or the newsroom at 882-5720.

Recommended for you

Join the conversation

When posting comments, please follow our community guidelines:
• Login with a social account on WorldTable.
• Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language or engage in personal attacks.
• Stay on topic. Don’t hijack a forum to talk about something else or to post spam.
• Abuse of the community could result in being banned.
• Comments on our website and social media may be published in our newspaper or on our website.