Trinidad State Adult Education Program gives second chances
Valley Campus / January 11, 2016 / Written by Margaret Sanderson
Twenty-four year-old Leslie Elliott carries a picture of her two year-old in her school notebook to remind her of her goal. “I’m here because I realize that if I don’t get my education, I’ll never have a job that pays more than minimum wage,” said Elliott. “I want to be a good example for my son. I want to get my doctorate and be a children’s psychiatrist.” Having worked toward her high school equivalency for only two months, Elliott will be ready to take her Social Studies and Reading/Language Arts exams next month. Two other exams are required: Science and Math.
“This week we are celebrating those who never finished their education and are going back to school,” said Anna Mae Rael-Lindsay, Director for the high school equivalency program (commonly known as GED – General Equivalency Degree) at Trinidad State in Alamosa. September 21 – 26 is National Education and Family Literacy Week. Since Rael-Lindsay became the Director in 2000, students have ranged in age from 17 to 67 and many have been scraping by on minimum wages.
According to the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009 the average income for a high school dropout was about $19,500 – roughly $10,000 less than the approximate $29,000 a high school graduate could earn. Compare this to the estimated $38,000 earned with a two-year Associate of Arts degree (AA) or $48,000 for a four-year Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. “Someone who has earned a GED is looked on more favorably than someone who just simply drops out and ends their education there. A GED will indicate a level of completion and shows interest in advancing …” the report said. “Every day nearly 7,000 students become drop-outs. This is a huge impact on the country’s economy and a tremendous loss of human potential and productivity. Unemployment rates for high school drop-outs have been the highest since 2011 according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (at 14.3%) compared to individuals with college degrees (4.3%).”
Juan Gonzales spoke no English when he emigrated from Guatemala, but he’s progressing nicely. “There’s so many things I want to do and learn,” said Gonzales. I’m interested in the computer and in mechanics. Reading is important for me. My dad and his wife don’t have much education and don’t know how to help their children. I want to help my eight month-old daughter.”
When forty-four year-old Dora Peregrino immigrated to the United States in 1999 from Nuevo Namiquipa in Chihuahua, Mexico, she too spoke no English. After four years in the Valley, her husband’s job transferred to Nebraska where she worked a challenging 18 months at a nursing home where no one else spoke Spanish. Upon their return to the Valley, she began the ESL (English as a Second Language) program that was then offered at Trinidad State. She is now working toward her high school equivalency certificate. For someone who only went to seventh grade, it’s pretty amazing that she has learned algebra and recently passed the math portion of the exams. She is nervous about the reading, language and arts exams which she will take during Adult Education week. “I would like to be a nurse, but I’m not sure if I have time to do it,” said Peregrino whose 23 year-old daughter, who wants to be a lawyer, graduated with a major in biology from the University of New Mexico last December. Peregrino’s son is a 2011 graduate from the heavy diesel mechanics and welding programs at Trinidad State. Her 15 year-old daughter, who is in the tenth grade, no longer translates everything for Peregrino. “Now I can talk to people on the phone in English. Sometimes people are asking me for help!” “She has worked so hard. It has not been easy for her. She doesn’t miss. She’s so dedicated,” said Rael-Lindsay. “I really do believe that in June of 2016 she’ll be one of our graduates,” said Rael-Lindsay.
At Trinidad State Junior College there are two high school equivalency programs working to address this issue:
one in Trinidad and one in Alamosa.
All classes are free.
Rael-Lindsay is President-elect of the Colorado Adult Education Professional Association which is working to change the rules to allow more choices for the high school equivalency exams. At the beginning of 2014 the tests were made more difficult. Since then, the pass rate has declined considerably and it takes much longer to prepare the students for testing. In the past 20-25 graduates were the norm, but last year there were six. This year Rael-Lindsay anticipates ten of her twenty seven students will graduate. She hopes that number will increase if a variety of tests can be offered based on participant needs.
Seventeen states already offer more choices for different GED tests – a number of them more affordable than the current $37.50 cost per exam in Colorado. “Not all students want to go on to a four-year school,” said Rael-Lindsay. “They might prefer a technical career like welding or mechanics which does not require such stringent testing. We do have a legislator who is going to propose the bill that will allow Colorado to offer more choices for testing.”
Her instructors are key to this successful program. Kathy Woolbert has recently been hired to teach English, reading, writing and science. Gloria Ruybal teaches English, writing and social studies. Gary Petty teaches math. “This year we have a contract with the Department of Human Services which will allow me to hire a couple more instructors next month to help accommodate their clients,” said Rael Lindsay.
“We work to make the classes relevant and interesting,” said Rael-Lindsay. “Our reward is seeing so many lives change for the better.”