Comedian Bill Cosby, actor Christian Slater, Delaware’s Governor Ruth Ann Minner, U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, and cookie entrepreneur Wally “Famous” Amos. Besides being recognized as among the best in their professions, these people have another thing in common—they are all GED recipients.
According to the GED (General Educational Development) Testing Service, more than 860,000 adults worldwide take the GED test each year, and those who earn a GED outperform at least 40 percent of today’s high school seniors. Perhaps that is why more than 95 percent of U.S. employers consider GED graduates the same as traditional high school graduates in regard to hiring, salary, and opportunity for advancement.
In Kentucky, 27,796 people took the GED test in 2001 (the latest figures available). Of those, some 72 percent passed, just above the national average of 70.6 percent.
Many are like Kathy DeRouchie and her sister Susan Phares, who live in Bracken County. Their dreams were stalled. Kathy had dreamed of being a nurse since she cared for her grandmother when she was ill. Susan wanted to go into horticulture and work in a nursery or greenhouse. One thing was preventing them both from achieving their dreams: lack of a high school diploma.
Unlike many others, however, the sisters have done something about it. Both enrolled in classes at Bracken County for Literacy Inc., a non-profit organization formed by citizens in Bracken County to help people pass the GED test. There they met Sheri Holleran, a teacher with the program since its inception.
“People come here for different reasons,” Holleran says. “Some come to get a better job; some come to get a job, period. Some are here to set a good example for their children. I think whatever reason they come is a great reason. There is no reason better than another. Any reason that brings them into our office is a good reason.”
The office is actually one-half of an old house. There, prospective students find all the materials they need to work on their GED—videotapes, workbooks, Internet access—as well as help in classes or one-on-one instruction. The help is free and confidential, funded by state and federal funds as well as local donations. And the same help is available at Adult Learning Centers across the state. (See information on this listing below.)
Last year, some 300 people came through the door in Bracken County. Each completes a test to let them know what level they are on and what they will need to work on. The test is scored before the person leaves. Sometimes they are ready to take the GED. Other times they will need help with various subjects. Whatever they need, the help is available.
“I remember a woman in her early 20s who came in because she could not read a storybook to her child,” Holleran recalls. “She had a high school diploma, but she could not read. It took her three months before she could read that story, but when she read that first book to her child, she came in and told me.”
Holleran will never forget her or the first time one of her students got her GED.
“This girl had been working on her GED for about a year,” Holleran remembers. “She was very faithful about coming and needed her GED to support her kids. When she got her notice that she had passed, she came into the center with roses and gave them to me. I cried and cried. She got a job, a good job.”
Jobs are on the minds of Kathy and Susan as well. Kathy started working on her GED in January through an outreach program the Bracken County center set up. Through the program, volunteers for the center go to area businesses to tell them how they can get a GED.
A volunteer came to August Health Care where Kathy works as a certified nursing assistant. Kathy read the pamphlet they left, then followed up with the center. Soon each Tuesday and Thursday she was polishing her math skills in preparation for the GED test, which she plans to take in January. From there, she plans to go to Maysville Community College to prepare for a job in the trauma unit of a hospital.
Susan has completed her GED and is now making plans to attend Maysville Technical College.
“I have options now.”
Sometimes, people get a long way without a high school degree. They make a good life for themselves, but then something happens and that life is shattered.
For 28 years, Richard Young had a good job with ATR Wire and Cable in Danville. He had worked his way up to group leader (supervisor) in final inspection and was making $14.51 an hour. Even in the early years when he started as a machine operator, his pay was better than average. The minimum wage then was $1.80; Young started at $3.45 after completing the company’s probationary period. And it didn’t matter that Young had not completed high school.
Fast forward to April 16, 2003. Everything has changed. Young’s job, like that of many Americans, ended abruptly with only 60 days’ notice. Good jobs—the kind that provides for children and security—are hard to come by, particularly if you don’t have a high school education. Suddenly, it mattered a lot that he had not completed high school.
“I knew that if I wanted to replace that job, I had to get an education,” Young says matter-of-factly. Even so, Young was in a better position than most of his co-workers. At 49, his children were grown and his house was paid for.
“I wasn’t devastated,” he said. “I had been unhappy for a long while. This forced me to make a better life for myself. But I felt bad for all the people with children still at home. I felt bad for them more than I did for myself.”
After enjoying a couple of months off, Young decided to get his GED. He went to the Fort Logan Alternative School for Adult Education. With the help of the instructors there, he brushed up on literature and math in the mornings. In just 12 hours, Young’s instructors thought he was ready to take the GED pre-test to determine if he was ready to go for his GED. He was.
On July 20, 2003, Young received his GED certificate.
“The teachers there really helped me,” Young said. “Fortunately, I passed the first time I tried, except for the math section, which I had to take twice, but I’m almost 50 years old. My job included a lot of math and a whole lot of writing reports. I’ve learned a lot in life that the younger generation still needs to learn out of a book.”
Young says he was angry at himself because he hadn’t done it earlier.
“I thought it would be a whole lot more difficult than it was,” Young confesses. “I put off trying because I was scared and because of stubbornness, thinking that I didn’t need it. After doing it, I wished I had done it years ago.”
Today Young is enrolled in Somerset Community College, where he boasts a 4.0 grade point average. He is working on an associate degree, while working on his farm part time. Like many of his contemporaries at the college, Young is not sure exactly what he is going to do when he completes his degree.
“I have options now,” he says. “I’m not scared. The factory life was good for me. It fed and raised my children and provided them with medical care, but I hope to never go into factory work again. I have done all right, but if I had done it 30 years ago, I would be much better off now.”
“Education is an important thing.”
Dorthy Isaac has had only a few years to learn that a high school degree makes life much easier, but at age 20, Isaac has learned that lesson well.
Isaac struggled with school at Perry County Central. She “wasn’t a morning person and didn’t have many friends.” She also found that the help she needed just wasn’t there. So at the beginning of her junior year, Isaac quit. She quickly found that getting a job without a degree was tough going. “I kept hearing that you needed some kind of diploma to do this,” she recalls.
Isaac decided to go for her GED. She didn’t want to go back into a traditional school setting, however. The answer came in the mail from Kentucky Educational Television—the workbooks she needed to prepare for her GED while watching television programs that went with the books.
“They sent me a pre-test,” Isaac recalls. “If you scored high enough, you could make the decision to take the GED, but if you weren’t comfortable enough, you could work in the books.”
The televised programs worked well for Isaac.
“I got a schedule of the programs in the mail with the books,” she says. “It felt like I had a tutor teaching me what I needed help with. I could work at my own pace. I didn’t feel like anyone was putting pressure on me.”
Five or six months later, Isaac took the pre-test. She was ready for the GED test. A voucher for the GED soon came in the mail, and it was off to her local community college to take the test.
“I was nervous at the beginning,” she says, “but it wasn’t that bad. If you pay attention to the lessons, you get what you need.”
Today, Isaac concentrates on raising 5-month-old Josephine Jaden.
“I’m going to talk her into staying in school,” Isaac says. “I’m going to let her know education is an important thing.”
TO GET YOUR GED
In Kentucky, there are a variety of ways to get your GED.
GED on KET
If you want to study at home, call (800) 538-4433. That will get you connected with GED on KET. For $40, they will send you a pre-test that lets you know if you are ready to take the GED, or which subjects you might need to brush up on. You will receive three workbooks that correspond with programs televised on Kentucky Educational Television, as well as a voucher to take the GED test when you are ready. You will also receive a newsletter with additional information as well as personal phone calls to find out if you need any other help. Some 10,400 people have gotten their GED this way since 1985.
Adult Learning Centers
If you want a more structured approach, contact the Adult Learning Center in your county. There is one in every county. Most offer both classes and one-on-one instruction and have materials to help you study. For a complete list, go to http://adulted.state.ky.us/Local_Program%20Contacts.htm.
If you just want to take a high-tech approach and/or get a feel for what’s involved, go to www.literacylink.org. There you will find a wealth of materials to inspire and help you. You can sign up for a free password-protected learner home space, get interactive lessons, and use online resources such as a dictionary and calculator. You can also hear from others who have gotten their GED or are working with GED students. You can also request an online teacher who will look at your work and coach you on your progress.