Nearly 30 new students arrived for orientation day, Tuesday, Sept. 25, for a placement test and a free lunch donated by Chick-fil-A. Donna Pierce, lead instructor, said it's always exciting to see new students come in and take advantage of the program, but it's even more rewarding to see them succeed.
“We have a lot of people who just — for whatever reason — didn't quite finish high school,” Pierce said, “and it's very rewarding to see them change their lives for the better and meet their goals.”
Billy McReynolds, a 22-year-old from Fort Oglethorpe, who got kicked out of school for fighting in the twelfth grade, said that after his mother's death, he began to look at life in a different way.
“Life's too short,” McReynolds said. “I was young. I made mistakes, but that doesn't mean I have to end up like those stereotypes who drop out and just end up in jail or start having kids. Her death empowered me to focus. It might take me forever to get my GED, but I'm going to get it. She was my biggest fan, from the day I was born until the day she died. She always told me I was going to be somebody and do something. I just want to make her proud.”
McReynolds is pursuing a career in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and hopes to one day work with his father and role model, Artes McReynolds. He said his goal is to work hard and not let his past determine his future.
“That's what I love about Mrs. Donna,” McReynolds said. “Whatever happened in the past, she doesn't care about it. She doesn't bring it up. She just wants you to come here and focus on this now. She just tells us to leave all that behind. Come to class, hit the books and get to work. It's easy.”
Another student, Stephanie Moss, said she didn't quit or walk out on high school. She was asked to leave.
“Where I went to school, they didn't care too much for pregnant teens,” Moss said, who is now older and married. “I happened to be one of them. I was in the ninth grade. There were quite a few of us and they lined us all up and asked us to leave.”
Moss said her father was there for her during that time, but now that she's married with children, she felt she needed to better herself for her family. She plans to pursue an education in child advocacy, which stems from her burden for “kids who can't stand up for themselves.”
“I used to be one of those kids,” Moss said. “There was really nobody there to stand up for me so I want to be there for them.”
Not all students are just starting out in life. Mary Ellen Morrisson, 58, who dropped out of ninth grade, said she was “bored” in high school. She recalled how frustrated she was when she couldn't understand certain subjects and other students would make fun of her, so she just went to work. After her employer of 24 years closed its doors last year, a friend suggested she get her GED.
“I thought I would die there or retire there,” Morrisson said. “I want to go back to what I was doing — working with sheet metal. I don't really know how to do anything else but that. Hopefully I can get into a bigger plant that pays more and I can learn new things.”
Regardless of their stories, Pierce said the program is designed to eliminate as many obstacles as possible. Free transportation, free child care, and no fees for the test leave little excuses for anyone not to succeed.
“We do our best to make it as easy as possible for our students to achieve their goals.” Pierce said. “My favorite part is graduation. I get to see their family's response to what they've done. Children of GED graduates are so proud of their parents, and parents of GED kids are glad to see their children finally get that diploma. Many of them go on to college. It's a happy time for everyone.”
Classes are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and night classes are from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Although held at The Learning Center, the classes are actually sponsored by Georgia Northwestern Technical College. For more information, go to gntc.edu or catoosalearningcenter.com.