“We don’t do enough to celebrate success. When you read the news, everything you read is about things that have gone wrong; things that are negative. So when you have an opportunity like this, you really want to celebrate it,” says Oscar Mireles, executive director and principal of Omega School. “You can see it on their faces … people are just so proud and their families are so supportive. I think that they need to be reminded – we all need to be reminded sometimes – that we have a lot more support than we realize.”
Tonight at Vine Church at 6 p.m., Omega School, Inc. – who have helped thousands of adults prepare for and obtain a GED/HSED credential and education for almost a half-century – will honor a bunch more for doing just that at the Omega School Graduation Ceremony.
“For a lot of these students, they’ve only been told that ‘you’re not going to happen.’ For some, it takes a while to convince them that it is,” Mireles tells Madison365 in an interview at his office at Omega School on Badger Road on Madison’s south side.
The Omega School graduation is a celebration that is always fun and sometimes very emotional.
“The graduation serves as the endpoint. It’s an endpoint of the work that they have put in and a celebration that they are ready to move on to their next endeavor,” Mireles says. “We will have Madison College there to help connect people if that is where they want to go next.
“We feel like Madison College made a great decision to move right by Omega [School],” Mireles adds, laughing. The new Madison College building on South Park Street, which will be called the Goodman South Campus, is on track to open Sept. 3.
For more than a quarter-century, Mireles has interacted with every student to come through Omega School’s doors, supporting their futures through helping them pass their GED exams.
“Each student presents a different set of opportunities and challenges and we’re just trying to help them navigate,” Mireles says. “That’s why I will continue to help them every step. I’m the only non-profit that meets with every student, client, etc. I think, for me, that’s what keeps me grounded.”
Omega School has a high school contract with the Madison schools. “It’s especially important for those students. It is truly that second chance. We’ve had these Madison school students who’ve decided that they’ve found the place here at Omega,” Mireles says. “We’re not a large institution and coming here and kind of doing it on their own helps to remove them from some of the negative influences of their friends and socializing and other poor decisions around drug and gang involvement. Sometimes taking them away gives them the freedom to start anew.
“The average age of GED graduate is 25. So we’re saving 7-8 years of misery by having them complete this now,” Mireles adds. “The real prize is now they can start college, get a full-time job, or start an apprenticeship. It’s really a key access point and we’ve kind of given them the keys to the car.”
Mireles would love to see some of the greater community come out to celebrate the accomplishments of his spring 2019 class tonight at 6 p.m. at Vine Church on Madison’s south side. There will be about 14-15 students – each with a different journey – who will have finished up their GED/HSED and will have stories to share.
“Right now, we have 11 [students]; and we have another 10 who are in a position that if everything goes right – and if I drive by two churches and say two Hail Mary’s – they should finish,” Mireles laughs.
“We probably had 25 on the list, but people are battling a lot of obstacles and it just didn’t work out. At a certain point, you get so used to failure that it’s hard to see what success looks like,” Mireles continues. “But you have to see it. That’s why we have pictures of graduates in their gowns all over this building. Everything here says, ‘people graduate.’ We have to replace images of negativity with images of success.”
Mireles says that Omega School doors are always open for students but stresses that they have to do the work. That can be the big challenge sometimes.
“They just need somebody to believe in them. One of my high school students told me, ‘Oscar, nobody’s ever talked to me the way you do. You’re trying to get me to look at some of the things that I do,'” Mireles recalls. “Some other Madison school students talked to me about being bullied. That’s not in the curriculum. That’s not in any handbook. But it’s real and you’re on the end of it.
“We have kids going through so many different realities. We have a couple young moms,” Mireles continues. “The thing I see is that having a baby has helped them realize that they need to take themselves seriously. They have to care for somebody else. So while we clearly focus on academics here we have that extra sauce about helping young people make better decisions and helping them determine where they want to go and the steps they need to take.
“We use the GED to help change people’s lives,” he adds.