Bahiya Abdul-Aziz dropped out of high school to get married at the age of 16. The Baltimore native would eventually become the mother of six children ranging in age from one to 13. Her desire to earn her high school diploma never ceased, and eventually she took the GED exam, but failed. Now 30, her children helped to fuel her desire to want to complete her high school education.
In January 2012, she enrolled in South Baltimore Learning Center’s External Diploma Program. While enrolled in the program, Abdul-Aziz also maintained her household, took a computer class at the South Baltimore Learning Center, and ran a home-based business called Delectable Confections. Bahiya started Delectable Confections in 2005. The company specializes in homemade desserts, which include sweet potato pies and cakes. Her interest in baking stemmed from watching her grandmother and aunt bake as a child.
As she was pursuing her diploma, Abdul-Aziz wanted to be a role model for her children and show them that it is never too late to complete an education. She was among the 35 graduates who participated in South Baltimore Learning Center’s Fall 2012 Learner Recognition and Graduation Ceremony. She also served as guest speaker for the program.
“Going back and forth to SBLC wasn't easy but it was necessary for me to complete the External Diploma Program,” she said. “The staff was very helpful, understanding and kind. It made things better for me. I finally obtained my diploma in August of 2012. After getting my diploma I've been focusing on expanding my baking business.”
She added, “Currently, I am baking from home in my small apartment and I am now looking for a larger kitchen to increase productivity. I am also furthering my education and training in cake decoration.
According to Abdul-Aziz her first large order was placed during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I sold 31 sweet potato cheese cakes and six different cakes, and all of this was done by myself from scratch.”
Abdul-Aziz earned her high school diploma through the External Diploma Program. The program allows for flexible scheduling and one-on-one
appointments with an advisor. Advisors guide participants through the program, giving feedback on which assignments meet program standards. All 65 skills must be demonstrated with 100 percent accuracy.
The South Baltimore Learning Center is a community-based nonprofit organization providing functional literacy and life skills training in addition to career preparation services to educationally disadvantaged adults in the Baltimore area, and the only provider in Baltimore City for the External Degree Program. The Maryland State Department of Education asked the nonprofit to take over the External Diploma Program from the Baltimore City School system in 2003. Enrollment, as well as the number of graduates, has steadily increased. Currently, the program maintains a waiting list for entry.
Now that she has earned her diploma, Abdul-Aziz plans to become a pastry chef and cake decorator.
Troy Braxton, 22, also graduated from the program. Like Abdul-Aziz, Braxton dropped out of high school. According to Braxton, he dropped out in the 10th grade because he “became distracted with the wrong crowd and lost focus of his studies.”
However, in order to achieve his goal of becoming a registered nurse and go to college, Braxton realized he needed a high school diploma. In 2008, he started taking classes with South Baltimore Learning Center at one of its off-sites, Paul’s Place. Initially, he attended for a year, but had to stop for three years because he started working to support his mother and three siblings. In 2011, Troy returned to pursue his diploma with a focused and revitalized attitude. In September 2012, he successfully passed the GED exam, earning his high school diploma.
“I enjoyed the instruction I received, and the tutors were excellent,” says Braxton. “The teachers are dedicated to their work and they are motivators. It was wonderful and I thank every staff person there for helping me to obtain my GED.”
Troy is looking to start college in the fall, and encourages students to stay in school. He hopes that getting his diploma will inspire others, and commended the program.
“The External Diploma Program is a great program,” he said. “It has helped a lot of people. I’m one of them.”
For more information about South Baltimore Learning Center, visit: www.southbaltimorelearns.org.