ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A local school which provides high school diplomas for adults is in danger of shutting down. This comes after an age cap of 21 was put in place during the last legislative session. Now, the school needs funding to help students 22 and older.
“Not only does it provide them an opportunity to earn a high school diploma, it gives them the chance to put their lives back together, as well,” said Kimberlee Pena-Hanson, director of the Gordon Bernell Charter School. “Many of them have been in the system and they face multiple challenges when they get out and it is our job to provide them with the skills that they need to successfully transition.”
The Gordon Bernell Charter School in Albuquerque provides intensive high school diploma programs for students, some even enrolling while they’re in jail. Nearly 70-percent of their students have a criminal record, while 30-percent do not have a record but may not have received their diploma due to prior trauma or poverty. In fact, the school says 99-percent of the students they serve dropped out and have went through some form of traumatizing life experience.
“Gordon Bernell Charter School is an Albuquerque Public charter school that serves students 18 and above who are transitioning out of the system, out of the Metropolitan Detention Center. We are a fully-operating high school and our students will often begin in the jail and they will start working on their high school diploma,” said Pena-Hanson. “They will then transition to our campus on North 4th and then we will help them transition into the community. Additionally, we have a group of adult learners on this campus who are also pursuing their high school diploma.”
The school, located on North Fourth Street near Menaul has a high school diploma program that goes at the pace of the student, whether they’re at a third-grade reading level or a 12th-grade level. Last year, an age cap was placed statewide, limiting K-12 funding for students up to the age of 21.
“Not only were we impacted but schools statewide were impacted by this legislation,” said Pena-Hanson. “Although, our mission serves 80-percent of the adults and many of those adults don’t have opportunities outside of our program.”
Now, the school hopes to secure higher education funding — to the tune of $6 million — to continue to provide schooling for students 22 or older, which is 80-percent of who they serve. If House Bill 152 passes, they will get the money they need.
“We’ve been working through the interim session, and working with legislators and other advocates and stakeholders to ensure there is a pathway for moving forward, for not only our adults, but those statewide,” said Pena-Hanson. “If we are unable to pass legislation this year, then we will not receive funding to keep this program functioning and operating at the level at which it is.”
The school says more than 500 students have graduated through the Gordon Bernell program. The school’s director says she desperately wants to keep that number growing.
“These are individuals that did not have an opportunity in our educational system and now they are seeking an opportunity and many of them need quite a bit of support,” said Pena-Hanson. “It will continue supporting our adults in the way needed to help them rebuild their lives and rebuild their skills and transition. The legislation is very specific in outlining a pathway for moving forward.”
If funding is not approved this session, the school says they may be forced to shut down in June. Those who wish to help are encouraged to reach out to your local lawmakers and ask for House Bill 152 to be passed.