Returning student learns the value of a high school diploma

LEICESTER — Daryle Stone didn’t have much use for school — or at least that’s what he thought 14 years ago as an Otter Valley Union High School freshman.
He wasn’t learning things as easily as his classmates, some of whom teased him for being “slow.”
“I’m the type of person if you made fun of me, there was a confrontation,” Stone, now 28,  recalled.
To make matters worse, he would deliberately try to get kicked out of school in order to pick up work so that he could help his mom — a single parent with a disability — pay the household bills.
The end result: “I didn’t make it out of 9th grade,” Stone lamented.
But that all changed on Thursday, June 13, when Stone and around two-dozen other area residents picked up their high school credentials at a ceremony at Middlebury College’s Kirk Alumni Center. It was the culmination of many hours of hard work that Stone said will allow him to achieve his goal of enlisting into the U.S. Army. He wants to carry on the military legacy left by his grandfather and uncle.
“I want to keep the family tradition going,” Stone said with a smile. “I want to better my life.”
Stone launched an initial effort to get his adult diploma several years ago.
“These days, you need a diploma to get a job,” said Stone, who has worked a variety of low-wage, manual labor jobs since leaving school.
But just as he began his studies, tragedy struck. His mom, Bernice Stone, passed away.
“I had to work overtime to pay for her funeral,” Stone said.
So he had to kick the proverbial can further down the road — to last August. He had learned he needed a high school diploma or the equivalent of a GED in order to be considered for admittance into the military.
He went to the Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) office in Middlebury, where teachers set him up with an education plan. He received around eight hours per week of instruction, along with homework assignments, in such subjects as reading, writing and algebra. He completed his first-ever research paper assignment, on the subject of ethanol fuel. He also began reading books.
“It really helped me with my speaking and writing,” Stone said.
He credits his VAL instructors for motivating him to read. They told him to pick books with subject matter that interested him, rather than assigning him titles. Intrigued by the military, Stone picked out five books that transported him to battlefields in the Philippines, Vietnam and the Middle East.
“It’s made me want to read even more,” he said.
Stone was able to share his learning experiences and his impressions of VAL as part of a 10-person Vermont delegation that attended the 8th National Adult Learner Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C., on May 6-8. He met, among others, U.S. Sens. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as well as U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
Millard “Mac” Cox was among the VAL instructors who helped guide Stone to his adult diploma.
“When I first met Daryle, he had very little confidence in himself as a student; he wasn’t sure he’d be able to learn what he needed to learn,” Cox said. “But he’s extremely dedicated and very hard working and he’s gained so much confidence. He now believes in himself and knows he’s intelligent and he knows he can learn. I have been immensely impressed with him. It’s been very good to work with him.”
Stone was looking forward to attending Thursday’s ceremony. He’ll be thinking of the long but very worthwhile road that took him to a diploma. He’ll be thinking about a new beginning in the military. But above all, he’ll be thinking about his mom.
“She’d be really happy,” he said.
John Flowers is at [email protected].

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