A change of focus: Because of high demand, GED programs seeking more commitment from students

Sunday, November 22, 2009
Becky Atwood, director of adult learning, discusses the adult education program for prospective applicants. (Fred Lynch)

About a year ago, the Cape Girardeau School District was flooded with students seeking training for high school equivalency and college entrance exams.

"The first time you get that onslaught, you simply don't know what to do with it," said Becky Atwood, coordinator of adult education and literacy for the district.

Atwood said a waiting list, which had more than 100 names, was cleared by the summer. It climbed back up to more than 80 in recent months.

A waiting period can be discouraging for students, especially for those who had to muster the courage to seek help, Atwood said.

"It was frustrating for us as teachers because we knew there were people out there who were serious, yet we had this huge list," she said.

The GED is an eight-hour test that covers five subjects and can require more than a year of preparation.

A trend in education is making sure students are of the commitment needed before starting adult learning programs, Atwood said.

"I'm going to tell you right now, if you don't have a real reason to be here, chances are you're going to have a hard time coming in and staying," she said to 11 prospective students during a GED orientation session Thursday.

Because there is a higher demand for its services, the center is seeking more dedication from its students. Atwood said the goal of the orientation sessions, which started in July, is to find serious students, not to discourage or discriminate.

"Be proud of what you're getting ready to do and don't think of yourself as second-rate," she said.

During the session, prospective students filled out a questionnaire to outline their goals and what they hope to learn.

"We cannot give you the motivation and desire," she said. "We can help you search for it."

In Cape Girardeau, the orientations help whittle down the waiting list. Starting in January, there will be set orientation times so students can show up at scheduled times.

"Prior to that, they could just walk in the door and enroll," Atwood said.

This fall, the center also started a reading program to strengthen the skills of students reading below the eighth-grade level. Before, some students quit their studies out of frustration because they could not read well enough, she said.

Cape Girardeau's adult learning center operates out of the same building as the Cape Girardeau School District's administrative offices and Alternative Education Center. There are also teaching sites in Perryville, Advance, Marble Hill and at MERS/Goodwill in Cape Girardeau.

On the wall of the main center, the names of the program's graduates are illustrated with car name?tags. Because the focus of adult education is shifting from quantity to quality, the center is tracking its graduates more, Atwood said. She monitors which students go to Metro Business College, the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center and elsewhere.

"We're trying to find those students who are truly serious and want to move ahead," she said.

Keeping students longer

Educators throughout the region are also experiencing the change in adult education.

"We are working on keeping students longer and reaching their goals better," said Norma Batchelor, director of adult education and literacy in Sikeston, Mo. The center operates out of the Sikeston School District.

As a result, she said, there is an increase in student commitment. Orientations have created a waiting list that stretches into February, Batchelor said.

There are two orientation sessions per month, which force students to make a conscious effort to start their studies, she said.

"We want to make you feel good about what you've learned in life and build on that," she said.

Adult education centers in East Prairie and Poplar Bluff do not have waiting lists but are seeing the change of focus.

"We hope to be able to serve all the individuals coming in, but if there's an overload we may have to put them on a waiting list. As of the present we don't have to," said George DeMyers, director of adult education and literacy in East Prairie.

The center operates out of the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center. There are also two adult learning sites in Charleston. More than a month ago, the center started transporting students from New Madrid.

The Poplar Bluff Adult Learning Center is not battling increasing numbers of students, said Lonnie Taylor, director of adult education and literacy. The center, which has two teaching sites in Poplar Bluff, also holds classes in Dexter, Malden, Kennett, Doniphan, Greenville, Piedmont, Ellsinore, Van Buren and Winona. It operates through the Poplar Bluff School District.

Since the center started its controlled admissions process, students have to enroll on certain dates. The new policy, which started in the fall, is making the program more student-focused, he said. In the past the goal was to serve as many students as possible, he said.

"Now we are focused on making students successful," he said.

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