When Pvt. David Gates dropped out of high school during 11th grade five years ago, he thought it was the right thing to do.

"My family really didn't have enough money to support me to go to school," he said. "I thought it was in my best interest to leave, so that my family could take care of my (four) sisters."
He started to work as a trim carpenter, but soon found out how hard it was to make a living without a high school diploma.

"My life wasn't really going anywhere. I wasn't really moving up in life," he said.

Gates' career took a big step forward when he graduated with a GED from the Army Preparatory School Sept. 17, allowing him to move on to Basic Combat Training.

"I've always thought about going to the Army, ever since I was a little kid," he said.
Many of the 43 students who graduated in Gates' class -- the largest to date -- share similar stories.

Pvt. Cynthia Martinez finished 12th grade, but did not have enough credits to graduate. She was a member of her school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and the APS allowed her to fulfill her dream of becoming a Soldier.

"We went to a mini boot camp and I liked everything I did there," Martinez said. "They challenged you physically and mentally and I liked it. Since I wasn't really doing good in school, this program (APS) helped me a lot."

Capt. Brian Gaddis, commander of APS, takes pride in the fact that the school gives young people the chance to succeed.

"The most rewarding part is really, honestly just seeing new Soldiers come in who, without a high school diploma or GED, may not have accomplished anything in life," he said. "Now they're accomplishing their dreams. Many of them grew up wanting to be a Soldier and they didn't have that opportunity until the Army Prep School was opened up."

The school opened Aug. 4 and has graduated 114 students so far, with the test results of 51 students pending at press time. The school's success rate stands at 95 percent.

"It was easier for me to stay focused, whereas in the school environment there are different influences, which can be bad on you," said Pvt. Logan Siddall, who maintains a family tradition by joining the Army.

David Reiter, APS math teacher, said that the environment was a main factor in the students' success.

"It's a lot more intense here with the setup," Reiter said. "The students are focused because they know they have to get through this to get to basic training. So they have to jump this hurdle and, for the most part, they're pretty motivated."

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander of the U.S. Army Accessions Command, was on hand to present the graduates their diplomas.

"In the Army, you're going to be in a lifelong pursuit of education," he said during a speech addressing the school's students.

He told the graduates they had taken the first step on the road to success.

"Let no one get in your way. If you want to achieve in this Army, you can."

Although the graduates still have 10 weeks of basic training ahead of them, by obtaining their GEDs they have already accomplished something many thought was not possible a short time ago.

"I gained self respect," Gates said. "My parents are proud of me, my family is proud of me, and I'm proud of myself."

Susanne.Kappler1@us.army.mil

Page last updated Thu September 25th, 2008 at 14:52