Madison Stevenson, 20, has big goals that include earning a PhD and pursuing a career in engineering. Yet, there was a point in time that Madison believed she might not earn a high school diploma.
Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at a young age, Madison struggled with reading comprehension and English courses in school. She also found it difficult to connect in social environments and often felt ostracized by her peers.
“The bullying got so bad that I couldn’t even eat lunch at a table,” Madison said. “None of my classmates allowed me to sit with them, so I was forced to either sit on the floor or find other options every day. It really took a toll on my mental health, and it got harder and harder to keep up with my school work.”
Madison and her mother made the difficult decision to withdraw her from school halfway through her senior year. They looked at other high school options, but none of them seemed to be a good fit at the time. Eventually, Madison decided to focus on her job at McDonald’s. Then, while driving home one day, she spotted an advertisement for The Excel Center®, Goodwill’s high school for adults.
“The first thing that caught my eye was that it was free,” Madison said. “I did a little research and read the success stories from other students on the website, and I just had a really good feeling about it. I talked to my mom about it, and then we applied online. Two days later, I received a call from the school to set me up. That call completely changed my life.”
Given her history with other schools, Madison felt nervous about her first day at The Excel Center. However, by the end of orientation she knew that she had made the right decision.
“My teachers and coaches were so warm and understanding. I was almost in tears after leaving that first day, because, for the first time ever, I felt like I finally had a support system,” Madison said. “At The Excel Center, the teachers slow down and work with you until you understand. They actually made me feel confident,” said Madison.
Madison’s grades quickly improved, and graduation day grew nearer into sight. She was then paired with a Goodwill Guide — a personal career and life coach — to prepare her for the next step. Madison’s Guide, Kelsey, helped her set post-graduation goals including applying to colleges, narrowing down a major and accessing resources such as financial aid.
“I’ve never had anyone work with me in-depth on setting future goals. I’d taken college assessments, but it never went past the first meeting. Kelsey worked with me to not only make plans, but also to put them into action and make sure I found the right fit,” Madison said.
Madison graduated with her Core 40 high school diploma from The Excel Center in June 2019. Today, she attends Anderson University where she is pursuing a degree in chemistry. Ultimately, she plans to earn her PhD and find work as a chemical engineer. She attributes her newfound drive and confidence to her time spent at The Excel Center.
“They believed in me from day one, and pushed me to graduate,” Madison said. “I felt so burnt out at my old school, but The Excel Center made me love going to school and inspired me to continue my education. I feel more confident about my abilities than I ever have and know it’s because The Excel Center has given me the tools I need to succeed.”
To learn more about The Excel Center, visit excelcenter.org.