DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Huddled around the open books, the women intently discussed detailed passages about the lives of sea turtles and the cave paintings of the Mayans. For three hours a day, twice a week, they gather at Carrie Matthews Recreation Center to study science, social studies, math and language arts in hopes of fulfilling a common goal — to pass the GED tests.
"I quit high school decades ago and never went back. I'm 40 years old now and have four daughters, all who graduated from high school. I'm so proud of them," Debra Reed said. "I wanted to do something that I could look back on and be proud of also. That's getting my GED."
For Reed and her peers, the opportunity to accomplish that educational milestone rests with an expanding partnership of Decatur organizations and institutions.
Established by Decatur Youth Services and Calhoun Community College, the free self-paced General Educational Development, or GED, program at Carrie Matthews Recreation Center began in December. Four months later, the Committee on Church Cooperation started providing meals for the students trying to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. Now, Parents and Children Together will offer support for parents attending the classes.
"This is a wonderful example of community groups partnering together to help assist the people in our community who are trying to better their lives," said Susan Roberts, director of PACT. "And the impact, we believe, will be far reaching."
According to research, children of parents who complete high school are 75% more likely to graduate.
"When children see their parents work on their GED, it gives them more motivation and incentive to do well in school because they see how important getting an education is to their parents," said Bruce Jones, director of Decatur Youth Services.
To attract more parents to the program, which currently has an enrollment of 18 students, PACT, using funds from the National Center for Families Learning, will provide an hour-long parental support group and hour-long meeting for parents and children each week.
"The program is designed to bring families up out of poverty by helping them get their GED and find employment. We wanted to focus on the parents who couldn't work on their GED because of child care issues. We are trying to remove all the barriers that may prevent parents of young children from trying to earn their GED," Roberts said.
While the parents attend class from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Decatur Youth Services will provide child care at the Boys and Girls Club on Sixth Avenue Northwest.
Jones, who received approval from the Housing Authority to use the Boys and Girls Club as the day care site, described the child care element as instrumental.
"We can reach so many more parents if we have someone to take care of their kids. The excuse most people, especially single parents, use as to why they can't attend GED classes is because they don't have child care. This eliminates that excuse," Jones said.
Beyond the potential financial impact earning a GED carries, the educational achievement also results in a mental and emotional boost.
"I look forward to coming to class. I'm surprised by what I know. It makes me feel strong and smart and like I have so much potential," Reed said.
Like Reed, Stephanie Rogers found inspiration to attend the GED classes in her children.
"I have small children and I want to be able to help them with their homework instead of having them help me," Rogers said. "I want to be a good example for them and better myself. I want to show them and not just tell them that education is important."
Parents interested in participating in the program can call Patty Way at 256-355-7252. Individuals, who do not have children or have grown children and are interested in attending the GED program, can fill out an application at Carrie Matthews, 902 Sixth St. N.W.
In January, organizers will expand the program to include a Ready to Work portion, which will help individuals secure the credentials needed to work at local businesses and industries such as the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant under construction in Limestone County.
"We are all coming together to raise up our community. This is a one-stop shop. You can get your GED, child care for your children and get trained for a job," said Michael Stovall, supervisor at Carrie Matthews and coordinator for workforce development at DYS. "It's a good way to break the chain of poverty."
Information from: The Decatur Daily, http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml