The final bell will sound this month for thousands of San Fernando Valley teen-agers eager to embark on Life After High School. They will exchange their notebooks and nerves for credentials and celebrations.
But what about the thousands who didn't graduate? In increasing numbers, they take the GED--General Education Development tests.
Last year about 4,000 people took GED exams administered by the Los Angeles Unified School District (slightly more than 3,000 passed), and that number is expected to be much higher this year. Across the nation in 1988, 736,655 took the exam, which is run by the American Council on Education in Washington.
"It's growing all the time," said Ann Jackson, who runs the GED testing center for the Los Angeles district. "More people are realizing they need the diploma. If you look in a lot of ads, they ask for a high school diploma or the GED. A lot just take the GED, and that's it."
Five subject areas are tested: English, social studies, science, literature and math. Most of the exam is multiple choice, but this year's version has a new feature: a 200-word essay used to evaluate writing skills. Students, who must be 18, have up to 7 1/2 hours to complete the exam, which is given several times a week at various locations in Los Angeles County.
Because those taking the exam have frequently been away from school for years, district officials recommend GED preparation classes. "If a person's been out of school for a while, they really need that student-teacher relationship," Jackson said. The GED preparation classes are offered throughout the year at community adult schools and occupational centers.
While most students take the GED to qualify for employment or obtain a job promotion, a passing mark also stands as a symbol of the academic achievement they missed the first time around. Many then go on to compile enough credits to receive their high school diploma, too.
What follows are the stories of three students who bypassed education in their adolescence, but went back for a second chance.
C aponetto attained all the dreams of her Depression-plagued youth in the Midwest: financial security, four healthy children and a tranquil life with her husband of four decades. Yet, at 61, relaxing in her home in Granada Hills, Caponetto admitted without hesitation: "Something was missing."
The something was education. Three years ago, she started attending GED classes at the Rinaldi Adult Center in Granada Hills. And, finally, last week, after years of uncertainty and growing self-doubt, her mid-life goal came true. She passed the GED.
"I never finished school because I fell in love, and love was the most important thing at that time. It was 1944, I was 16 years old and I was in a hurry to get married. Dad pushed me to stay in school, but Mom didn't. She was more concerned about there being someone to take care of me." Her fiance "had three suits and $300 in the bank, and Mom said, 'You better marry him cause he's going to make something of himself.' He was the richest guy around.
"When people asked me about high school, I always told them I went through the 10th grade. I lied. I figured they'd think I was a little smarter that way. I felt very dumb just going through the ninth grade.
"Over the years, I wasn't able to carry on a decent conversation. I would just sit there and nod my head. I wished I had known what they were talking about. I pretended a lot. People would talk about history and geography and math and things I never studied. I just knew my times tables and that was it.
"I remember once when my daughter was at school and the teacher said, 'She procrastinates a lot.' I said, 'That's nice.' I didn't know what procrastinate means, and so that was one time where I pretended and got caught. I thought later: 'Why did I pretend?'
"I had four kids, and I helped each of them till about the fifth grade, and then they were on their own because I didn't know what I was doing. I told them they'd have to figure it out themselves or ask their teacher. Sure, that bothered me. Once, my 13-year-old son was in class and they were talking about parents, and he said, 'My mom and dad are dropouts and they're doing OK.' I felt terrible, so ashamed that he would think this was a good thing.
"And then all the kids had left the house, and I thought how I should go back to school before I got too old. So I started three years ago, and it was hard. I was frustrated by the whole thing. I never thought I would pass. I wanted to quit many times. I had to take some tests three or four times. But just sitting there with all these young people made me feel so great. I'm going to take a computer class, too. I want to keep learning more and more.
"I passed. I can't believe it. I feel important now. I feel like a real person now. If I were to fill out an application now for a job, I could put that I took high school classes and passed my GED.