With no choice but to drop out of school at the age of 16 more that 20 years ago, Paula (Moore) Rittenhouse can now say she has her Waverly High School diploma, just like the rest of her classmates who completed their coursework.
With her husband, Ricky, watching, Rittenhouse received her diploma from Waverly City Schools Superintendent Ed Dickens on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 12.
After making the decision to get her diploma, Rittenhouse was able to finish her coursework through the Ohio 22+ Adult High School Diploma Program.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, the 22+ High School Program is a free competency-based credit recovery program for adults who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent, are at least 22 years old, and live in Ohio. There are 38 different locations offering the program across the state. Rittenhouse completed her coursework through Columbus State Community College. Once the program is completed, a locally-issued high school diploma is awarded to the student.
"I wanted to go into home health. My daughter works in home health, and she wanted me to get a job in that field. It is a good paying job. For me to work there, I had to have a high school diploma or a GED (high school equivalency diploma)," explained Rittenhouse.
"My supervisor said, 'Paula, I can let you work here for a year, but you have to get your high school diploma or your GED to stay.' That really motivated me. I did some research. I found Graduation Alliance at Columbus State and gave them a call. They asked me to fax my transcripts. On the same day I did, they called me back a couple hours later and said, 'You are all set. Here is your login information.' So I could get started."
Rittenhouse started the process in the spring, completing the requirements in five months. Lorna McQuay, Waverly High School Guidance Counselor, explained that Rittenhouse finished all of her requirements that she needed to receive her diploma in October 2020.
"Paula needed four and a half credits. She had to take some of her proficiency tests because back then proficiency tests were a requirement," said McQuay. "A student can start the program with any amount of credits, but they have to finish it in a two-year timespan."
Rittenhouse said she tried to avoid dropping out of school, but didn't feel like there were any other options.
"I had a child at a very young age of 16. Back then, there wasn't a daycare for a newborn. My dad worked five days a week and my step-mom worked too," she explained. "That only left me one to two days to go to school. That was not cutting it. I wasn't going to graduate. I had no other choice but to drop out. It was a big regret."
Constantly facing obstacles in life, Rittenhouse wanted to find a way to earn her diploma.
"You can't get a good paying job to put food on the table without a diploma. Working at a gas station or in retail does not pay much. I wanted a job that was worthwhile, actually paid the bills and put clothes on our kids' backs. My husband works, but I also wanted to do my part. You can't make a living, getting $150 every two weeks."
Having meaningful employment in her job with Buckeye Community Services gave Rittenhouse the push to finish school.
"I work 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. sometimes seven days a week. In my job, I work with developmentally disabled people. I love my clients. They are family. Sometimes you do have free time during the day. I would just get my laptop out and get to work," said Rittenhouse.
"I did a lot of my course work on my days off. I would get up, make a cup of coffee, and just do it. It was challenging sometimes, but the whole time I kept telling myself it was worth it."
She has received nothing but support from her family.
"My kids are excited. They are proud of me," said Rittenhouse. "Our oldest one, who is 25 and works in home health, is ecstatic."
"I know I'm proud of her," said Ricky, her husband. "I've been behind her 100 percent. Every since we got together, she's been talking about getting her GED or diploma. I told her to go for it. I would encourage young people to stay in school."
Finding the Ohio 22+ Adult High School Diploma Program was crucial for Rittenhouse, as she had tried several other avenues that didn't work out for her.
"I'm so glad I found the Graduation Alliance," said Rittenhouse. "It is free. You don't have to pay anything. There are a lot of people out there who need to know this."
"I would tell everyone to finish school. It is not worth it to drop out," said Rittenhouse.
"What I was able to do was wonderful. It may seem easy, but it wasn't that easy. You are doing it on your own. Yes, there is a teacher online. But you have to wait for them to respond. You are taking time away while waiting. Here at the school, you have someone to help. My advice to all students is to finish school and get a good job. I lost friends, I missed my high school prom, and my graduation. You don't get those back."
McQuay said that Rittenhouse is the first Waverly student that she knows of to complete the Ohio 22+ Adult High School Diploma Program.
"When she completed it, Columbus State sent us an email saying that she had met the requirement," said McQuay. "They sent her certificate and transcript to us. We put everything together and got her diploma ready."
All of that work culminated into Tuesday's diploma presentation.
"Now I can look back and say I achieved my goal," said Rittenhouse. "I'm proud of myself."