Students in danger of losing Rebound

By Gus Bode

Sixteen years into his life, Mat Kelly is already pessimistic about his chances at success.

After today, Kelly has no idea where he can go to help him graduate high school, as the last school to give him a chance is scheduled to close its doors indefinitely.

Kelly, of Pinckneyville, is one of the latest victims of a state budget mess that has left many social service agencies with few financial options. Kelly is one of roughly 400 students served annually by Operation Rebound, an alternative high school that helps students ages 16 and older earn diplomas and GEDs.

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‘I don’t know what I’ll do. No high school will take me in. They say I’m too far behind,’ Kelly said as he took a break from gathering as many credits as he could before the school closes its summer session today. ‘This is my last option. It’s going to be tough.’

Kelly said he first arrived Jan. 7 at Rebound, which was established in Carbondale in 1970 to help students who, for various reasons, could not finish their education at a traditional high school.

Since he arrived at Rebound, Kelly said he has stayed out of trouble, made great strides in his understanding of math and now has an idea of what he wants to do with his life.

But his goals of post-graduation culinary school may be difficult, he said, because he is too far behind in his schooling for many area high schools to consider him. He said staff members at Rebound have suggested he get his GED, but that certificate would not allow him to pursue his higher education goals.

Rebound operated this year with $461,000 worth of grants administered by the Illinois Board of Education, the Illinois Community College Board and the Southern Illinois Workforce Investment Board, said June Hickey, director of the school.

But with funding for those grants diminished, students throughout southern Illinois – as far as Chester and Percy – may lose out on programs to help them earn their diploma, obtain their GED or get assistance taking care of their children.

A somber tone has filled the air of the school in the past weeks as staff and students became more aware of how difficult funding would be, said Sandy Snowden, family literacy coordinator at the school for the past eight years.

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Several staff members, including Snowden, huddled around a computer Tuesday to listen to the Illinois State Board of Education meeting. The group cut roughly $400 million from programs serving school children in reaction to the lack of state funds.

Snowden said there is always uncertainty as the staff waits for a state budget, but it has never been this severe. She said students have had a variety of reactions, from scrambling to finish credits while they still can to giving up completely.

‘The students are like, ‘What’s the point of us coming? There’s no point anymore,” she said. ‘It’s hard to keep them motivated, looking in the positive outlook that maybe there is funding and maybe we’ll find something out there.’

These reactions are a stark difference from the transformations she said she has seen in many of the students who enroll in the school. She said she often sees students who do not care about their education turn into A- and B-students who go on to earn bachelor’s degrees.

The program has also been instrumental in helping young mothers balance child care with education, Snowden said. She said she has seen many uneducated pregnant girls go on to become successful parents through the help of the program.

These benefits have helped Mollie Hester-Kelly, who is expecting her first child Aug. 6. Hester-Kelly may be one of the final graduates of the Rebound program, as she worked to finish her final credit Wednesday in anticipation of today’s closure.

Hester-Kelly, 18, of Du Quoin, said she has attended the school for the past 2.5 years and it has put her in a position to move on to community college after her child is born.

‘Whenever I went to public school I couldn’t get any credits, and here I get As and Bs. You can work at your own pace so I get things done faster and there’s a lot of benefits for being pregnant,’ she said.

The school is also able to serve a variety of youth who have had trouble with the law in the past, said Mark Hutchings, a former probation officer who now teaches at the school.

Hutchings said he has worked at Rebound since 2002 and has referred students there since the 1980s. He said the school was one of the few programs he sent students on probation to that actually worked to turn their lives around.

After meeting with the Carbondale High School District 165 superintendent Wednesday, Hickey said she is confident the center would continue to help students. She does not know when or to what extent they could continue to offer programs, she said.

‘Rebound will be here. The scope of its services, I don’t know about right now,’ she said. ‘I don’t know when our doors will open, but we will definitely open our doors. We will be doing educational services for dropout youth for sure here.’

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