Graduates celebrate new beginnings (video)
Almost 40 of the more than 100 students who earned their General Educational Development, or GED, certificates through Victoria College's Adult Education Center walked across the stage Saturday morning.
Family and friends filled the Welder Center for the Performing Arts to support their graduates.
Tiffany Johnson, director of the center, taught GED classes in her hometown of Yoakum when there were too few students to send an instructor.
"When that lightbulb goes off, we want to be there," Johnson said. "We want to be open and not deter them from the training."
Daniel Gonzalez Jr., assistant director for the center, traveled 30 minutes from his home in Schroeder to teach classes in Yorktown for the same reason.
"This is not a second chance for many of the students," Johnson said. "It's a first chance."
The center sends instructors to surrounding communities such as Port Lavaca, Edna, Cuero and Tivoli when enough students in the area are interested.
The center never turns anyone away, she said. The full-time, five-person staff, with more than a dozen part-time instructors, makes sure students get what they need.
Analisa Escalona, 24, of Victoria, was one of six graduates to earn both the GED and Students Accelerating through Integrated Learning, or SAIL, certificates.
The mother of three, ages 11 months to 7, dropped out of high school when she was 15 years old. She started adult education classes four years ago only to drop out two weeks into the training.
"I'm getting old," Escalona said. "I needed to do something with my life, so I started the classes again."
Four nights a week, she studied reading, math, writing, science and social studies, in addition to the certified nurse aide curriculum offered through SAIL.
Escalona plans to pass the college entrance exam and secure financial aid so she can enroll at Victoria College in the fall. She wants to pursue either Licensed Vocational Nurse or dental hygienist training.
"I'm so proud of her," said her mother, Blanche Galvan. "I hope she keeps going."
Escalona's 19-year-old sister, Danielle, also dropped out of school.
"Analisa is encouraging me to get into the program to become a CNA (certified nursing assistant)," she said.
Lacey Bowman, 29, of Victoria, also earned both GED and SAIL certificates.
She dropped out of high school in 2000 and enrolled in classes a few months ago.
Her SAIL certification is in welding, and she plans to advance her welding skills in more training next semester.
"I'm ecstatic," said Ray Ramsey, her boyfriend. "I spent long nights helping her with math and arguing over problems."
SAIL offers curriculum in three fields that complement other training. Occupations include certified nurse's aide, welder and truck driver.
The Adult Education Center's federally funded classes are free and offered to students 16 years or older.
English as a Second Language, or ESL, correctional facility, Adult Basic Education, GED and SAIL training fall under the center's umbrella.
Each student meets individually with an adviser to set goals and establish plans to achieve them.
An average of 2,000 people walk through the center's door each year. From July 2012 to June 2013, the center tested and advised 680 of those.
Some have easily answered questions, some do not follow through with the training, and others test well enough to bypass the training for the official GED, Johnson said.
Eleven of the graduates earned more than 3,000 total points and were distinguished as honor graduates.
The center's ESL classes teach reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Two graduates, who did not attend Saturday's ceremony, also became U.S. citizens in addition to earning their GEDs. The center does not fill out or file paperwork, but helps students with the academics for their citizenship tests.
"The students see the value in education and become role models," Johnson said.
The center changes the generational pattern of not valuing education.
"They become better citizens, community members and college graduates," Johnson said.