MONROE A South Piedmont Community College student had the highest GED score in the state last year, the school recently learned.
But getting that honor wasn't easy for Brian Wells. He dropped out of high school a couple of months before graduation, then bounced around in a series of minimum-wage jobs before deciding to refocus on his education.
The Monroe man scored 3,860 out of a possible 4,000 points on the General Educational Development test. A score of 2,250 is considered passing.
Denise Wilson, director of SPCC's adult basic skills programs, said GED classes represent a good opportunity for people to address regrets about not graduating from high school and are a critical tool for returning to the workforce. The GED is recognized as a high school equivalency diploma.
Wilson called Wells' score a huge accomplishment.
The GED tests students in five areas: reading, writing, science, social studies and math.
Kelly Stegall, Wells' GED instructor at SPCC, was not surprised by how well he did. She described him as smart, dedicated and someone "you knew right away ... would do very well."
When the school told him about his best-in-state score, Wells said, "the first thing I wanted to know was out of how many (students) so I could determine how excited I should be." The answer was 13,766. He said he was pleased but not all that surprised.
In an interview last week at SPCC's Monroe campus, the 24-year-old said he always handled tests well while growing up in Boca Raton, Fla. School was easy, he said, even though he never really liked it and felt disillusioned with the public education system.
During his senior year in 2005, he said, he also battled some "depression issues." By that time, his family had decided to move to the Monroe area, in part to be near his mother's relatives. With the move pending, Wells decided to drop out, figuring he would be able to finish high school courses online.
He liked doing things at his own pace, he said.
Wells moved back to Florida in 2006, saying he missed his friends, and embarked on those minimum-wage jobs: receiving clerk at a clothing store, shift supervisor at a coffee shop, pet store cashier, grocery store bagger, department store salesman.
He finally moved back to Monroe.
A conversation with a family friend who had served in the Navy and then made a lot of money in a civilian job triggered a plan for Wells.
He wanted to become a nuclear engineer and join the Navy. But to start down that path, he'd need to get his GED, then continue with the rest of his education. He signed up for the GED classes last fall.
After the test, Wells remained at SPCC to take 15 credit hours of classes for an associate in science degree. He'll finish with classes this month, then plans to enlist and eventually get a doctorate in nuclear engineering.
Gary Wells is proud of his son's accomplishment on the GED. But he called the moment bittersweet because Brian had not completed high school. "He thought he was smarter than the teachers and not being challenged," Gary Wells said.
But he said his son has matured over the past year, adding, "I stopped being surprised by him a long time ago."