PAOLA — When 18-year-old Kynleigh Smith of Louisburg started taking classes at the Paola Adult Education Center in January, it was the first time in her life she had ever been in a formal classroom setting.
Kynleigh was technically homeschooled by her biological parents, but she said she didn’t receive a proper education.
One year ago, she was welcomed into the family of Randy and Malinda Chappell of Louisburg, and that’s when she started focusing on making positive changes in her life.
Malinda is an interrelated teacher at Sunflower Elementary, and Kynleigh said when they talked about school it soon became clear that Kynleigh had some major gaps in her education.
Although she was working full-time at a coffee shop, Kynleigh decided that to reach her ultimate career goals she first needed to earn her GED. That’s when she turned to the Paola Adult Education Center.
Kynleigh learned that to earn her GED she would need to pass four tests — Science, Social Studies, Language Arts and Math.
She started taking night classes from 5 to 9 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday nights, and she soon began to also attend classes Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon.
This was all while juggling hours at the coffee shop. A typical day for her involved opening the coffee shop at 5:30 a.m., working until 2 p.m., heading home for a quick nap and then getting ready for night classes.
Kynleigh said she was learning a lot more than just what was in the curriculum. She also was experiencing for the first time what it’s like to be in a class with fellow students and how to listen and learn from a teacher.
“Being on time and sticking to the schedule, you have to be committed to that,” Kynleigh said.
She also quickly discovered that she gets really nervous when it’s time to take a test. Once the timer starts counting down, Kynleigh said her mind would start thinking about all the “what-ifs” that could lead to her not passing.
The Paola Adult Education Center has an area where students can take pretests to assess their knowledge, and Kynleigh said the staff at the center helped her to relax and focus on what she has learned.
“The teachers here are so supportive,” Kynleigh said. “They get to know their students.”
Her primary teacher was assistant director Chris Wheaton, who Kynleigh said she found an instant connection to thanks to their senses of humor.
“We were always making dad jokes,” Kynleigh said.
That connection inspired Kynleigh to stick with her studies, not just for herself but also to make her teachers proud.
“Every time I walk into this building, I’m so excited,” Kynleigh said. “You make a family.”
Kynleigh waited to take her math test last because that is her weakest subject, but she was confident in the others, and by the end of the February she had already passed Social Studies and Science.
Thanks to the help of her teachers and the support of her family and friends, it didn’t take Kynleigh long to pass the other two tests as well, and she was able to celebrate her accomplishment during the Kansas State High School Commencement ceremony for GED graduates in April at Paola High School.
Kynleigh said putting on the cap and gown and walking across the stage was a very special moment for her.
“We had a grad party and everything,” Kynleigh said. “I really wish I could have had a normal high school experience.”
Now that she has her GED, Kynleigh is ready to further her education. She currently is attending Johnson County Community College to complete her general education requirements, and then she plans to transfer to a university to study nursing.
She’s even serving as a student life ambassador at Johnson County Community College.
“God laid this path out for me,” Kynleigh said.
Even though college is keeping her busy, Kynleigh said she still finds time to stop by the Paola Adult Education Center and visit with her teachers. She also offers support to other students, who range in age from teenagers to senior citizens.
“GED class is not just for people who dropped out of high school,” Kynleigh said. “It’s for all different types of people with different stories. It’s really inspiring to see people older than me getting their GEDs.”