Dodge City center gives dropouts, at-risk students a chance to earn a high school diploma

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It’s never too late learn.

“Oh let me get the laptop,” 23-year-old Esmeralda Soto said as she was unpacking her backpack.

For some, the road to a high school diploma is fairly smooth.

But Soto said her journey has been far from traditional.

“The drop out wasn’t really like a thing I wanted to do,” she said. “Growing up, school has always been something I’ve been passionate about.”

Soto said she dropped out of high school after she moved from Mexico to Oklahoma on her own.

She was going into her senior year when she made the big move, until the school told her some shocking news.

“They said none of these credits from home could be transferred,” she said. “I had to start high school completely over.”

Soto began high school over again; but during her second year, supporting herself became a struggle.

“I was trying to support myself, and I was trying to go to school at the same time,” she said. “And at some point, I was like you know what I can’t do this.”

For the next few years, Soto worked in fast food until she realized she wanted more.

“I was over here working at a restaurant flipping burgers,” she said. “And it’s not a bad job, but at the same time I was feeling like is this the best I can do?”

She moved to Dodge City and found Southwest Plains Regional Service Center.

“Our program at the center is for adults that are 18 or older that are wanting to get their high school diploma,” Southwest Plains Regional coordinator Pam Gleason said.

The center partners with USD 443 and Fuel Education to offer a variety of online courses.

The center also reaches out to help rural school districts across the state to provide them instruction where they’re experiencing teacher vacancies, Senior Consultant and Community Learning Center Principal at SWPRSC Bill Losey said.

All students can take courses that range from AP English, Sports Medicine, Nursing, Wildlife Management and more.

Once the student receives 21 credit hours, they walk across the stage and receive their diploma.

A moment Soto  will always cherish.

“I was shaking when I got to walk on the stage,” she said. “I just wanted to cry so bad.”

Now that she has her diploma, she is hoping to enroll in college to become an animal behaviorist.

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