LACONIA — Members of the School Board were told last night by a 50-year-old man from Franklin who is scheduled to receive his diploma from Laconia Academy in June that it's important for young people to remember that there's no substitute for a high school diploma.
Gary Bleggi said that he dropped out of Franklin High School in the 1980s and went into the military but never went back to school.
He said that he decided to return to school to get his diploma after having been challenged by his son, who spent an extra year and a half going back to school to get his diploma, to take that important step.
''I was out of work but used the GI Bill to attend Lakes Region Community College get my CDL (commercial drivers license) and took a welding class at Laconia Adult Education,'' says Bleggi, who said that he is now employed full-time as a truck driver but spends three nights a week taking classes which will allow him to earn his high school diploma.
He said that he was passed over for one job as a commercial driver because he lacked a high school diploma, even though the company wanted very much to hire him. ''They were going to let me continue with night school but realized that they had advertised for someone with a GED or high school diploma and felt they couldn't wait until I graduated to fill the job. It's my opinion that a GED is almost useless and that the person with a diploma is going to win every time,'' said Bleggi.
He said that his current employer ''has been great to me'' and sees to it that he gets out of work early enough for him to attend the night classes at Laconia High School. ''It's not easy going back to school when you're 50 years old but it sure is worth the extra effort,'' said Bleggi.
Also speaking highly of the Laconia Academy program offered by the Laconia Adult Education Program was 20-year-old Chris Ennis, who is also scheduled to receive his diploma in June.
He said that he started working at an early age and worked instead of attending high school. He later got a job at the Boys and Girls Club in Laconia where he worked for three years. He currently works full-time at Baron Machine in Laconia and has been encouraged by his employer to take part in the academy program.
"I appreciate the program and how it has helped me. The teachers have been very helpful. With what I'm learning maybe I can be a manager at the machine shop some day and make more money,'' says Ennis, who noted that he has taken classes with several people who are in their 50s and sees what a difference the education they are receiving is making differences in their lives.
Both Bleggi and Ennis were invited to speak about their experiences by LHS Adult Education Program Director Peggy Selig, who said that total enrollment in courses offered by he program has been over 1,500 this school year.
She said that Laconia Academy, which has 84 students this year, is the fourth largest diploma program of its kind in the state. There also 91 people enrolled in Adult Basic Education programs, 58 in the Adult Learning Services program, 34 enrolled in English as a Second Language and a total of 57 (29 in electrical and 28 in plumbing) enrolled in the four-year Electrical and Plumbing programs.
''We used to have 150 a year in those programs before the recession and we're finally starting to see them grow again,'' said Selig.
She said that 530 people took courses offered by adult education in the fall and 666 in the winter courses, for a total of 1,196 this year. She said that one Chinese cooking course was so popular that she had to break it up into two classes on different nights of the week.
She attributed the large increase in second semester enrollment to the harsh winter weather, ''It was an awful winter and people had cabin fever.''
She said that one of the more popular courses this year has been welding, which attracted 60 participants and noted that five employees of Baron Machine took adult education courses this winter.
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