Lake Norman & Mooresville

GED program is a chance for a do-over

Some say there are no second chances in life, but not the students enrolled in the GED program at East Lincoln Christian Ministry.

They range in age from 19 to 59, and they have been out of school anywhere from two to more than 40 years. Despite their differences, they share a common goal, to finish what they began in high school.

What they hope to gain is a better opportunity to find success in the job market and to prove to themselves and others that they can succeed when given a second chance.

The youngest student in the class, Emily Montes, lives in West Lincoln with her mom and her younger brother.

She attended North Lincoln High School but quit in the middle of her sophomore year.

"I wasn't too proud of my grades, and I was discouraged by the amount and difficulty of my homework," she said. "It seemed to me that the harder I worked, the further behind I got."

Montes enrolled in the GED program in September 2011, after reading about a young man who earned his diploma at East Lincoln Christian Ministry.

"I was amazed that he had been able to do that. I thought that if he could do that, I could too," she said. "My mom also saw the story, and she encouraged me to go back as well."

"It took me a while to get going in the program because I lacked confidence in my ability. I just decided that I had to take it one day at a time and try to overcome my fears," she said. "I've learned to believe in myself, and I'm determined to finish the program."

Her ultimate goal, said Montes, is to become an auto mechanic, like her dad. "I'm just a good ol' country girl, and I don't see any reason a country girl can't do anything a man can."

One of the older students in the class, Bobby Collins, is 59. A resident of Lincolnton, she dropped out of South Point High School at 16, halfway through the 10th grade, to go to work and help her mom, who walked to work at the mill in McAdenville.

Collins was the second youngest of nine siblings, four of whom still lived at home. She began working as a knitter at a mill in Belmont.

At 18, she got married and now has three kids and seven grandkids.

She continued to work after marriage in a series of low-paying jobs, ultimately working her way up to a better-paying job at a Nationwide insurance office in Charlotte.

However, when the office staff was downsized due to the poor economy, Collins was laid off.

"My daughter had completed her GED to years earlier," Collins recalled, "and she urged me to go back to school to get my GED, as well."

Although she had wanted to return to school, she was worried about her chances for success. "I'd never done well in school, so I lacked the confidence I needed," she said.

"I thought I could finish the program in six months, but it's been a year now and I'm still plugging away. I get discouraged at times, but I'm determined to finish," she said.

"I don't know how long it will take, but I'm in it for the long haul."

At 22, Amber Reeves is one of the younger students. Born in Gadsden, Ala., she attended high school for the full four years but did not receive a diploma.

"I didn't have any problems in high school - I did well in my classes - but I didn't do well on the math portion of the Alabama graduation exam," she said.

"I completed all of the requirements for graduation, and I even did well in a geometry class at a trade school near my home," she recalls, "but I still failed the math exam. I was devastated because I didn't know what I was going to do with my life without a diploma."

"I wanted to go to college," Reeves said, "but now at 22, I feel stalled. I've been working on my math skills in the GED program since last August and I hope to take the math exam this month."

Currently unemployed, Reeves has been looking for work but finds that without a high school diploma, it is difficult to land a job.

"There's a stigma in the unemployment office about those of us without a diploma or GED, and that makes me mad," she said. "I'm capable and motivated, and I know I can do the job."

"I still want to go to college. I don't know what I might study, but I want to further my education," said Reeves. "It's very important to me and I'm determined to succeed."

Forty-three year old Denver resident Ricky Burgess is determined to complete the GED program, even though he now has a good-paying job that he enjoys.

Born in Lincoln County, he attended Bandys High School, but did not earn a diploma, even though he completed all four years of high school.

"I didn't have enough credits to graduate," he said. "I felt like school was a waste of time at that stage in my life. I couldn't see the big picture of why I needed a diploma."

"I was raised up a country boy, living the outdoor life with a shotgun and a four-wheel drive," he recalls.

"When I was 16, I got a job at a sawmill cleaning up evenings and Saturdays, and I guess having any job at that age seemed more important than succeeding in school."

"After high school, I had a few dead-end jobs, and then I decided to start my own landscaping business. That didn't work out either, and after two years, I gave it up," he said.

"I worked at R-Anell Homes in Denver laying carpet, and I worked as a dump truck driver in Catawba, but then I decided to get my commercial driver's license and that has been a lifesaver for me."

Why go back to school, now that he has a good job driving a truck for First Fleet Trucking in Newton?

"I'm sure I can eventually advance in my current job or possibly get even better jobs one day. Getting that GED will be my ticket to success. Better late than never."