When Heather Simmons learned about The Excel Center®, a free high school for adults, she’d been out of high school for 18 years, working in the fast food industry. At 35 years old, she wanted more for herself and her family.
“I had been on my own since 15 years old and always wanted a high school diploma,” Heather said. “When I heard about The Excel Center, I couldn’t believe it was real.”
Heather enrolled at The Excel Center in August of 2015. A mother of three, she knew she needed to make education a priority, and to set a good example for her children.
“One of my managers at work was upset about the change in my schedule, but I was determined to go back to school,” Heather said. “However, my other manager supported my decision because I was doing the best thing for me.”
After taking a few classes, teachers noticed that Heather had a good grasp on the lessons -- especially math. She began to help other classmates and even had the opportunity to lead class one day.
“I really came out of my shell,” Heather said. “I started as an introvert, and now I’m very much an extrovert.”
Heather graduated from The Excel Center in June 2016 as Valedictorian with nine college credits and a Certified Business Professional certification. She also received a scholarship from Ivy Tech, making her graduation even more special.
“I’d never been to a graduation, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was very surprised to learn about my scholarship and being Valedictorian,” Heather said. “It was the best day of my life aside from having my kids.”
Heather’s graduation called for a special celebration from her family as well.
“My mother and sister came from Alabama and my uncle came from Colorado just for my graduation,” Heather said. “It meant a lot to me that they would travel all that way to see me earn my diploma.”
Heather believes that graduating has made her a better parent because it’s taught her children how important education is and they now all plan to attend college. Heather’s oldest son currently attends The Excel Center and is working to earn his diploma.
“My son was bullied at school and would walk in daily with his head down,” Heather said. “At The Excel Center, he walks with his head held high, his GPA has increased and he’s prepared to graduate. This school has changed more than my life -- it has impacted my entire family.”
After graduation, Heather returned to The Excel Center in Noblesville as the child care manager, while pursuing her bachelor’s degree. She has plans to become a math teacher and life coach at The Excel Center.