Savannah Ross almost lost her chance at $100.
Her grandpa shared a story with me. He had told his granddaughters that if they got their GED, he would hand them 50 bucks, but if they actually “walked the stage,” he would hand them a $100 bill. Wednesday night, Savannah got her $100, thanks to a last-minute change of plans on our part.
The General Education Development (GED®) test changed in 2014. While many people struggled to pass the old test, this new one has proven to be a much bigger challenge both in difficulty and cost. The point of the change was to help those who had abandoned traditional high school better prepare for the rigors of postsecondary education and acquire better workplace skills, since high school equivalency alone usually does not lead to much of a secure future. Students must be able to push themselves farther than they have in the past, and the new GED is tailored to demand that higher level of ability. (Don’t believe me? Go to www.ged.com and try one of the practice tests. For a mere $6 you can see what our students are up against. The actual tests are $30/component or $120 for the entire test.)
Unfortunately, the students who need to earn their GED are usually the ones who have become disenfranchised in traditional school due to unaddressed learning challenges, social issues like bullying, negative conduct, or the fallout of family poverty and transience. Students who come in the door of the E building (where you can find Parkland College Adult Education) are often the walking wounded of the academic world. Their ages span 16 to 60+. They have already failed at school at least once for some reason. Their learning disabilities and social or economic issues have not gone away. They are often tentative and lack confidence in their ability to learn. They don’t trust us. They’ve never liked school. They usually come from harmful generational cycles.
But here at Parkland, we help them.
We challenge their self-fulfilling prophecies. Our Adult Ed teachers learn their names and stories. We build relationships with them, discover their abilities, and applaud their efforts. We introduce them to campus resources like the Office of Disability Services and the Center for Academic Success and community resources like the WIA office, local employers, and housing options.
Swiftly, with this scaffolding of support, many of our students start to succeed. They stop missing classes. They write more. They discuss in class. They start to see themselves as capable learners. They encourage each other. When one student passed the GED, she left a message on our classroom whiteboard encouraging her former peers to keep working. When we announced that 11 people had passed the GED, one woman called out, “I’ll be No. 12” —and she was! Number 13 passed without any fanfare at all.
This year, we could not boast 100+ GED passers as we have in years past. In spite of the increased challenges inherent in the new test, however, 13 Parkland Adult Education students passed it. Twelve of them are already moving through the steps to enroll in Parkland classes for the next school year. They’ll be in some of your classes, but you won’t recognize them because they’ll be just as ready as every other student in the room.
So back to our student with $100 in her hand today. In the past, we would have had access to the names and addresses of GED grads throughout Parkland District 505, so we would invite them all to participate in a big graduation ceremony in the Parkland Theatre. There were caps, gowns, speakers, board members, the traditional walk across the stage—the whole shebang. Now, with the new computerized test owned and operated by GED, we are unable to reach out to this large group, so we had to table the big ceremony.
Instead, we planned an informal reception on June 3 for our small group of 13 in the lovely new U building: a few balloons and cookies, and the chance for the students to celebrate with those they love. We decided it wouldn’t hurt to give them the chance to don the cap and gown. Only seven of them could attend, but to our surprise, those seven filled half the space with cheering family members. And at the last minute, Dean Tawanna Nickens decided to stand on the small stage, giving them the chance to walk across it as she read their names, shared their future plans, and gave them a small token from us.
So, Savannah “walked the stage” and got her $100 from her Grandpa… and so, so much more.
[Kellie Anderson is the program manager for Parkland College Adult Education.]