January 16, 2013
A second chance at high school
BOCES program aids people in getting their GED diplomas
Adrian Jones left high school in Florida in 10th grade and saw no need to finish, until his efforts to find work as a forklift operator proved fruitless in the past year.
Most employers in New York want people with at least a high school degree, he discovered.
So he has been preparing to take the General Education Diploma, or GED, exam to gain his high school diploma through Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, joining the roughly 26,000 people who pass the GED every year in New York.
“I moved here four years ago for a change of scene,” Jones, 44, now of Cortland, said last week during a literacy course offered by BOCES. “I come here and everybody wants a GED. In Florida, experience is all that matters.”
Jones and Bailey Eck, 20, of Dryden were working with literacy teacher Lori Pallone during a three-hour preparatory class in a computer classroom at Cortland Works in downtown Cortland. OCM BOCES offers GED classes there and at McEvoy Center in Cortlandville, along with English as a Second Language courses at Cortland Free Library.
The GED exam lasts for seven hours and is given eight times a year in Liverpool and four times a year in Cortland by OCM BOCES. The most recent one was given Saturday.
BOCES offers the courses for people over age 21, and sometimes for people between 18 and 20. Before anyone can take the GED exam, which spans reading, writing, math, science and social studies, they must first score at a certain level on the four-hour “predictor test.”
John Iorio, coordinator of continuing education and career training for the Cortland offices, and Mari Ukleya, the BOCES coordinator of adult and family literacy, said the idea is to keep students ages 16 to 18 in high school itself if possible.
Iorio said people should be at an 11th grade level in math and reading before they attempt the GED test, because literacy is needed for every part. They have to answer questions about maps and charts.
If they fail the GED test, they cannot take it again for 60 days.
Iorio and Ukleya said the GED test will become more difficult in January 2014, as part of New York’s push for higher standards in schools, as it adopts the federal Common Core Standards.
The test will be mostly online by 2016, so BOCES is now pushing students to improve their computer skills, since some of them prepare for months before deciding to take the test.
The reasons why people leave high school and need the GED are many, Ukleya said. They might be bored and hate the structure. They might want to work, to support their parents. They might be needed to baby-sit siblings.
“Some of them end up being parents to their siblings, then come back to school to do what they never were able to do,” she said. “There is no pattern. We have college professors’ kids who just hate school and leave.”
OCM BOCES gets help with the courses from community groups such as YWCA, Catholic Charities, Seven Valley Health Coalition, Community Action Program of Cortland County and Cortland Area Communities That Care, all of which steer people to the GED program.
The OCM BOCES has a 92 percent success rate with people who start the program, compared to 75 percent statewide. It has 1,600 students per year in the program, about 150 of whom are in Cortland County, Iorio said.
Iorio said the test is not easy, as only 60 percent of people with a high school diploma pass it on the first try.
The exam uses real-world examples in the math part and sections of text with questions.
Jones and Eck reviewed math problems, one of which asked them to subtract based on their having $200 to purchase a refrigerator both with or without ice and water, and a freezer. Then they read passages about South Dakota’s history and industry, and a shorter one about Mount Rushmore and the four U.S. presidents who have their busts carved on it.
The money problem came from fictional classified advertisements in a newspaper. They had to circle the key question and key facts connected to it, as part of critical thinking.
The South Dakota passages came with questions, such as why those four presidents are portrayed on Mount Rushmore and which president Eck and Jones would add, if they could, and why. They also had to edit five sentences about the state’s Wind Cave National Park, with 10 errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation.
Pallone guided them through all of it, asking them if they had ever been to South Dakota. They also read text about Fort DeSoto, a county park in Pinellas County, Fla. Jones said he has spent many afternoons there while living nearby.
Eck received an individual education plan or IEP certificate from Dryden Central School but wants to get an actual high school diploma.
The two were joined by Amy Adams, 21, who lives in Cortland and grew up in Dryden. Adams had come in to take the tests that show where a student stands and how long he or she might have to take the courses before being ready for the GED.
Adams had brought with her a novel, the best-selling “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and spoke about what she saw as its flaws but also why it has such allure for many women. She said she has a learning disability which makes it hard for her to read and write, but loves books.
Adams said she left high school in ninth grade and enrolled at Tompkins Cortland Community College, studying hotel and restaurant management. TC3 had a program that allowed students to receive the GED but the program has been discontinued.
She said she was working for a bank, answering questions from people via telephone about their accounts, but was told in December that she needs a high school diploma.
Pallone let her choose an essay topic from a bag. The topic: Why do people always want more money, no matter how much they have.
Iorio said some students do not finish the courses and take the GED exam.
“We’ve had students reach the end and get pressure from their parents not to finish, because their parents don’t see the need,” he said. “Or the students think they’ve never been successful, so how could they be successful now?”
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