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New rules take effect in January, putting hundreds of area students on notice.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
GED math instructor Kathy Stahl reviews probabilities. Many people seeking their GED struggle on the math portion of the test.
DON PETERSEN | Special to The Roanoke Times
GED student Andre Harvey listens to the instructor during class.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Every time she went shopping at Sam’s Club — and sometimes even when she didn’t need anything at all — teacher Jennifer Chaney looked for her former student, a Sam’s employee. Andre Harvey had dropped out of William Fleming High School his junior year in 2005, and Chaney, an English teacher at the time, took it personally.
She wanted him to finish his GED.
Now retired from the school but working part time as a regional adult education specialist, Chaney has been trying to get the word out to more than a thousand Roanoke-area dropouts who have been piecing at their GED certificates for the past several years and to tell them: Time’s running out.
New GED testing rules go into effect Jan. 2, 2014, and people who have partially completed the exam — but have yet to pass all five subject areas — will have to start over again if they fail to pass the entire test by the end of this year.
Harvey, now 26, was one of the typical GED holdouts: He’d passed everything but math. He regretted quitting high school, regretted getting sucked into “the wrong crowd,” regretted where his economic lot had taken his family when he was just 16.
“We got put out of our home that year,” he recalled Monday night, before taking his place in a former classroom at the old William Ruffner Middle School alongside 20 men and women just like him: GED seekers and former dropouts, most with their own deep-set fears about math.
Hard as it is now to take GED classes with a 7-month-old baby and a full-time job, Harvey praised his old teacher for going out of her way to recruit him at Sam’s, where he’s worked full time for eight years. Once he gets his GED, Harvey plans to take classes at Virginia Western Community College, a step toward achieving his next goal: opening his own car detailing business.
“All we need is 20 more points,” Chaney told him Monday before class. “That math, and 20 more points, and we’re home free,” she said.
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Trawling for former students at Sam’s wasn’t Chaney’s only strategy. Working under local, state and federal grants, she also sent out 116,000 postcards to households in the Roanoke region, alerting people that all incomplete scores will be deleted, and the newly designed GED test will soon be computer-based rather than pencil and paper.
“There’s a reluctance and the same fear factor that held them back before,” Chaney said. “They know it’ll help them in the job market, and they know it’s kind of a now-or-never moment.”
At the time Harvey quit high school, Roanoke City Public Schools’ dropout situation was growing dire. The system has since made marked progress on its on-time graduation rate, boosting it from 59.1 percent
in 2008 to 80.3 percent in 2013.
Former William Fleming High Principal Hallie Carr, who still works in school administration, said it’s been rewarding to see the students “we lost at William Fleming who are now coming back,” many of them telling her, “You were right; I shouldn’t have dropped out.”
The test-prep classes, which are free, are being held in schools, libraries and work force development centers across the region, and residents from, say, Clifton Forge are free to study in other localities closer to where they work if they wish, Chaney said. The current test costs $58, though there is some need-based grant money available, and some dropouts are eager to take the current test because the new computerized version is doubling to $120.
Chaney said there are currently about 300 GED students in the region, though the number fluctuates widely, with some passing the test earlier this year and already enrolled at Virginia Western. GED math teacher Kathy Stahl estimated that the number of students she’s taught this year has doubled from 2012.
“There’s been a big surge, and a sense of urgency for us all,” Stahl said.
Roanoker Anna Bocook, 53, dropped out of Bath County High School at the age of 16 — not long after social service workers removed her from the only parents she had ever known, her foster parents, and placed her in the home of relatives, where she then struggled emotionally and scholastically.
For most of her working life, she’s been a single mom raising two children and working marginal jobs at fast-food restaurants, school cafeterias and temp agencies, she said. Since February, she’s been unemployed and looking for work.
With the expiration of her unemployment benefits in June, Bocook says her boyfriend and grown daughter have inspired her to return to school. “If I can overcome what happened in my childhood, I can overcome anything,” she said, positive that she would pass the math portion of the test the next time she takes it.
“For a person my age, it’s embarrassing not to have a high school degree. After this, I want to see if I can go to college,” she said, aspiring to be a first or second grade teacher.
Then, she echoed the comment that Chaney and Stahl hear continually in the classes. “I could kick myself in the butt for quitting,” Bocook said.
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