Weather Forecast


First local grad in new GED program

Mitchell Dahlen is the first local student to earn a GED under new, tougher standards. His advice: Show up every day.

The testing standards may have tightened a bit for earning a General Educational Development (GED) diploma, but that doesn’t mean those who didn’t graduate from high school with their peers should despair of ever passing that milestone.

“It’s certainly not impossible to pass,” says Kathy Simison, lead teacher for the Detroit Lakes Adult Basic Education (ABE) program, located on the campus of M State-Detroit Lakes.

Just ask Mitchell Dahlen, who became the first local student to earn his GED diploma under the new federal testing standards that were implemented in January.

Dahlen, who currently lives in Frazee but is looking to relocate with his fiancée to a farm in the vicinity of Detroit Lakes, readily admits that his failure to graduate from high school with his peers was due to a lack of motivation rather than any kind of learning impairment.

“I got in a lot of trouble in high school, and I was more interested in partying than studying,” he said frankly. “I dropped out in my senior year.”

A few months ago, “I came out of my slump and decided I wanted to be successful in life,” Dahlen said.

He also learned that the job he wanted with Drilling Services International in Williston, N.D., stipulated a GED diploma as one of its basic requirements.

“They were offering me more money if I had my GED,” he said.

So Dahlen started taking the classes in mid-January; though good attendance is not mandatory, Dahlen was there just about every day, Simison said.

“I did come to class just about every day,” he said. “For me, it was better that way, to keep everything fresh in your mind.”

Simison agreed, stating that consistent attendance and study habits are the keys to success in passing the test.

“That’s the biggest detriment to students who don’t pass it — they’re not consistent,” she added.

While Dahlen said that he was able to complete most of the coursework independently, by studying the books and online materials, “If I had questions, they were there to answer them. They have a very knowledgeable staff — the help is there if you need it.”

Simison credited ABE instructors Amy Fish and Fran Crowley as the ones who worked most closely with Dahlen in getting his GED by the end of March, after about a month and a half of studying — though that’s “not typical” of all GED students, she added.

“How quickly they pass the test depends on the skill level they start out with,” Simison said.

“I wanted to do it in a month, but that didn’t happen,” Dahlen said, noting that the new, tougher standard for algebra was a big part of the reason.

“For the most part, I had a lot of the knowledge already, from high school,” he said. “The thing that held me up a little was the algebra… that’s a little more advanced now.”

Simison said the tougher algebra standard was implemented because a lack of understanding for basic algebra “has prevented many GED — and high school — graduates from succeeding in college.”

For his part, Dahlen said, “I actually found learning algebra to be a little bit fun.”

His advice to those who might be considering enrollment in a GED course: “Study hard, come to class every day, and take the tests while the information is still fresh in your head — and have a positive attitude.”

A positive attitude is definitely one of the keys to success with the new GED standards, Simison agreed.

“Yes, the testing is different, and will require more studying (to pass), but it’s not impossible — they can achieve it,” she said.

The new GED test is also “a more relevant predictor of future success, both in college and on the job, than previous versions have been,” Simison added.

She also noted that the support of the Detroit Lakes School District administration and school board in making the local program an official GED testing site has been invaluable.

“There aren’t a lot of districts that took that challenge,” she said, “but it has provided our students with a great service… a lot of our students have transportation issues, so not having to travel (to Fargo or another host site to take the test) is a huge advantage.”

For more information on the Detroit Lakes Adult Basic Education program, and enrolling in GED courses, call 218-844-5760 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or send e-mail to

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454