Almost two years ago, Project Neighbors played an instrumental role in establishing Neighbors’ Educational Opportunities (NEO), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing essential adult education and an alternative pathway to earning a high school diploma. Fast forward to the present and it is hard to believe how much NEO has truly accomplished. With the continuation of adult education services and with the opening of Neighbor’s New Vistas High School, NEO is now firmly established as a provider of vital educational services in northwest Indiana.
NEO’s adult education program serves 300 – 400 students annually who enroll to learn English as a second language, study for the GED test, prepare for college, or study for the test required of high school graduation. NEO also runs an official GED testing site — the only one in Porter County — accessed by over 400 students each year. Students who have completed their high school coursework but who have not passed the required graduation exam also turn to NEO, where adult education teachers help them prepare for the test.
On August 16 New Vistas High School had its official opening ceremony, with Representative Pete Visclosky cutting the ribbon. On September 4, it opened its doors to 136 students. New Vistas is a public charter high school, open to any Indiana resident seeking to earn a high school diploma, no matter their age. New Vistas offers a Core 40 diploma like traditional high schools, but works with students who need a flexible, part-time, or evening schedule; a smaller, more personalized school environment, or a curriculum that is more relevant to their lives.
As New Vistas nears the end of its first trimester, 25 students are waiting in the wings to begin classes in the second trimester. Prospects for growth are excellent, reflecting the need for alternative pathways for high school completion.
There is a unique story that reflects the lives and experiences of NEO’s high school and adult education students. Take Fred, a 20 year old who left school three years ago. Since then, he has worked steadily to support his family. When he heard about NEO last year, he enrolled in our credit program and began to take the classes he needed to graduate. This year, in addition to working two jobs, he travels 20 miles each day to New Vistas, volunteers with disabled students as part of his Community Connections class, and was recently elected student council president following a week of “campaigning” (in a suit) for this position! Fred will be one of New Vistas first graduates. He has begun to meet with New Vistas’ College-Bound counselor to finalize plans for transitioning to college in the spring. He is so grateful to NEO and New Vistas that he has pledged to come back after he graduates and serve as a mentor to other students. One can only imagine how different his life would have been without this alternative pathway. Fred’s story is just one of the hundreds of stories ranging from tragic to inspirational.
The three story red brick building at 5391 Central Avenue in Portage has become a hub of hope for hundreds of students. Its marble staircases and solid oak doors reflect the quality of what is happening there. Each day, lives are slowly transformed, as students realize that the 2nd or 3rd or 4th chance is just what they needed to forge a more promising future.
For more information, visit NEO’s website www.neoadulted.org.