For dropouts, often regrets and challenges

Nationally, 25 percent of high school students don't make it to graduation on time, or at all. In Georgia, more than 30,000 students in the Class of 2011 became dropout statistics.

Dropout remorse has been with Atlanta resident Richardine Holmes more than 40 years. At 61, she is studying for the GED, the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Students drop out of high school for a litany of reasons, everything from boredom to problems at home to being behind in their school work. Once out of school, they're more likely to commit crimes, depend on food stamps and land lower-paying jobs. On average, they die nine years earlier than high school graduates, researchers have found.

Holmes said she quit school at 16 because "love and pressures at home were just too much."

She lost her stepmother when she was 13 and spent the next two years juggling school with the responsibilities of taking care of her father and two younger siblings.

At 15, she moved from Augusta in east Georgia to New York to live with her mother. Her boyfriend followed, then marriage and the first of her three sons.

Holmes said she quickly regretted quitting school and wanted to return. But her husband wasn't supportive. She spent 20 years in retail and 13 years in housekeeping at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Now she is taking classes to prepare for the GED at Literacy Action Inc., an Atlanta non-profit that works with adults with low literacy skills, many of whom have dropped out of school. David Berryhill, 19, and Angela Bridges, 52, are also enrolled there.

Berryhill was to have graduated with the Class of 2010 at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta but "slipped up," he said. He started falling behind, smoking marijuana and cutting classes.

In 10th grade, he quit school and signed up for Job Corps training. But he was kicked out for possession of marijuana, he said.

Berryhill has just gotten a job and is working to get back on track. He hopes to enter the military.

Bridges, an Atlanta native, said she had to help raise five siblings while her mother worked. When she was in the 11th grade at College Park High School, she got pregnant.

"I was ashamed of myself. I wasn't that type of person," Bridges said. "I didn't go back."

She's mostly worked in the fast-food industry and hopes a GED will be a first step to a career in interior decorating. She also wants to set an example for her two now-grown daughters, both also high school dropouts.

Pregnancy also cut short Elizabeth Rice's plans to graduate with her class at Loganville High School.

"I am still sad because this would be my senior year, but I am trying to make the best of it," said Rice, mother of a five-month-old boy, Carmon.

With her fiancee's help, Rice recently passed the GED. She plans to start classes at Gwinnett Tech in January, with the goal of eventually becoming a teacher.

As for Holmes, she's keeping a busy schedule with her GED studies, volunteer work at the King Center and a job selling antiques.

She hopes to go on to college and pursue a degree that will allow her to turn her passions of singing and writing into a career.

"If you are knocked down.You've got to get back up," Holmes said. "You can't stay on the ground."

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