Free GED classes honor their successful students
By REBECCA LEFTWICH
Undereducated Cowetans are at a severe disadvantage employment-wise during times of economic downturn, but citizens in outlying areas of the county have banded together to combat that problem by providing free GED classes.
In Grantville, 10 adult students were recognized at a recent city council meeting by Shelly Smith and Linda Dean, volunteer instructors who have guided them toward passing all or part of the GED exam or – in the case of two young men – their high school exit exams.
“Education helps people feed families,” Dean said. “It gives (people) a purpose, which is the most important thing in life.”
In the two years since Dean and Smith initially began holding GED classes in a church basement – mostly depending on word of mouth to attract students – more than 40 people ranging in age from 19-60 have come through the program.
The City of Grantville has since gotten on board, allowing classes to meet at the town’s to the Clements-Malcolm Community Center and providing the space rent-free.
“All we ask is that they come with paper and a pencil,” Dean said. “But if they don’t have that, we’ll get them paper and a pencil.”
Donations have provided many of the basics for the bare-bones proposition. Grantville Kiwanians have volunteered to transport test-takers into Newnan for registration and testing at the Central Educational Center, and private businessmen have given students the opportunity to work odd jobs to earn test fees.
In return, the entire town gets to celebrate with the students, as it did when certificates were presented to students at the city council meeting
“For some of those boys, that was like their high school graduation,” Dean said. “That’s why their families were there.”
And the personal investment in students is priceless.
“They tell us they’re going to take the test, and they want to come back and show they can do something,” Dean said. “As soon as they get the letter saying they passed, they’re stopping at my house or Shelly’s house. We make copies of the letter and tell the whole town, because it’s amazing.”
People drop out of school for many reasons, according to Dean, who said the non-competitive, low-stress classroom environment is a great equalizer.
“Some of them have been told all their lives they’re stupid, and they learn they’re not,” Dean said. “Maybe they’ve moved, or a parent has died, or they’ve had a baby very young. A lot of them feel like they didn’t fit in because they didn’t come from the right families or have the right kind of clothes. This gives them a chance to be with people who are their equal, who are going for one thing, and that’s getting their GED and supporting their families.
“They missed something in high school life that we’re trying to give them,” Dean said. “They have that classroom camaraderie now, where they didn’t have that buddy or do study group in high school. We keep telling them, ‘You’re gonna make it. You’re gonna make it.’”
That encouragement makes it easy to fulfill the one request Smith and Dean make of their students: to come back after they’ve gotten their GEDs and help with classes, even if it’s just to show their certificates.
“It’s a domino effect,” Dean said. “The students think, ‘Hey, we worked together in class and he did it. If he can do it, I will do it, too.’ A lot of them felt like they had been forgotten, and now they’ve been given hope and a future and endless possibilities.”
Where to find free help
• Grantville: Clements-Malcolm Community Center, 329 Griffin St. Classes Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. Contact Shelly Smith at 678-793-7574 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
• Senoia: HFL Resource Center, 7285 Hwy. 16. Students must call ahead to reserve a space and are required to attend all six hours of assigned orientation session. Orientations are Aug. 13 and Aug. 15 from 5-8 p.m. and Sept. 10 and Sept. 12 from 5-8 p.m. Call 770-599-1746.
• Whitesburg: Whitesburg Christian Church, 75 Hwy. 5 West. Contact Ruth Fuller, 770-834-0713 or ruth@wgrl .