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For Racine County adults over the age of 25 who want to earn their high school diploma, a new program that started Monday could make their dream come true.

Run by the YWCA Southeast Wisconsin, HSED 5.09 was developed after changes to the GED (general education diploma) went into effect in 2014 when computerized standard testing was implemented to coincide with the roll out of Common Core State Standards across the country.

The program fills the gap of a longstanding problem: Thousands of Racine County residents don’t have their GED.

HSED 5.09 provides path to employment

According to statistics provided by the YWCA, 540,535 people in 2013 across the country passed the test, but only 58,524 in 2014 passed the test, an 85 percent decrease. After receiving approval from the state Department of Public Instruction, the YWCA in January 2016 in partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical School launched HSED 5.09 in Milwaukee. So far, 82 students have graduated from the program, including Whitney Burks.

She told The Milwaukeean last month that she failed the traditional GED test before enrolling in HSED 5.09. The program helped her get her cleaning business off the ground and learn the discipline it takes to be a successful business owner, traits she hopes to pass to her daughter.

“Even if she slips and falls like I did, I want her to get back up and keep trying,” Burks said.

Jennifer de Montmollin, chief program officer with the YWCA, knew the program would work in Racine after attending the “Growing Our Local Workforce and Economy: The Racine County GED Initiative” at Wingspread last January. Sponsored by the Johnson Foundation, speakers at the event revealed that 15,000 Racine County residents over the age of 25 lack a high school diploma. de Montmollin knew HSED 5.09 could work here.

“This is a great option because GED testing changes mean it’s not the great value it used to be,” she explained. “There is a lot of anxiety when it comes to standardized testing, and this program removes that aspect.”

How the diploma program works

Students commit to 20 weeks where they spend four weeks on soft skills that are defined as health and employability and eight weeks each on the combinations of math and science and then English and social studies. Instead of just studying on their own, students attend classes from 9:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Students have a full calendar year to complete coursework to earn their diploma.

“We know life happens,” Katie Kasprzak said. “The flexibility allows students to join the program during the math and science portion, continue through the English and social studies and then finish up with the health and employability.”

Kasprzak is the GED outreach coordinator for Racine County.

And, while the class is structured more like a traditional high school model, students are applying lessons to real-world scenarios like learning how to budget and understand rental agreements before moving on to proofreading manuals, writing an email to a boss and sending a letter to their representative in Congress, according to the story in The Milwaukeean.

“The focus is to create a workforce who can fill almost any entry-level position or maybe above,” Kasprzak stated.

More, HSED 5.09 program becomes a community where students feel supported and support one another, de Montmollin said.

“That’s important because when a student is studying for the GED, they’re on their own, working at their own pace and then they’re faced with this big test they may or may not pass,” she added. “HSED is about building relationships while students are working toward their diploma.”

When does the next one start?

HSED has three targeted graduation dates; December, January, and May.

“For students who started Aug. 7, they will graduate in December, so it’s really a Christmas present to themselves and their future,” Kasprzak said. “Most of our students are parents who want to be examples to their children.”

But the program doesn’t just focus on earning a diploma. Leaders are also talking with students about next steps regarding possible careers and/or continuing their education.

Racine County HSED is paid for by the YWCA and Gateway Technical College. Adults need to be 18 1/2 to enroll.

The program has seats for 20 students, and there are eight or nine still available for when the math and science segment begins on Sept. 5. To enroll in HSED, contact Kasprzak at (262) 638-6703 or or Jake Gorges at