The Literacy Council of Central Alabama is offering free General Educational Development classes for adults in their northside office. The GED program represents one facet of a “holistic approach to learning” that includes adult reading classes and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs, according to Missy Burchart, director of the Communications and Development for the council.
The classes are the result of a partnership between the council and Jefferson State Community College, which also operates other GED classes throughout the city. Two educators from the college oversee the council’s two daily classes, which run from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
“We’re a program you can just walk off the street into,” said Adrienne Marshall, the council’s director of in-house programs. The classes run throughout the entire year and students progress at their own pace under the supervision of an instructor.
In keeping with their holistic philosophy of learning, the Literacy Council “graduates some of our adult reading learners into the GED classes. That’s always a good day,” said Burchart. And if an applicant for the GED classes doesn’t quite have the necessary reading skills, they are offered the option to join the council’s adult literacy program until they can pass the GED program entrance test.
The council staff began to consider offering GED classes when they realized that many of their adult learners were trying to become literate so that they could pass the GED test, said Steve Hannum, the council’s director of literacy initiatives. The council reached out to Jefferson State Community College, which worked with them to help plan and institute the program.
When the building that holds the Literacy Council’s office caught fire in May 2014, the nonprofit’s board of directors used the subsequent rebuilding of their office as an opportunity to build a special classroom for the GED program. The Junior League of Birmingham sponsored the building of the classroom, which now bears the league’s logo emblazoned on its door.
When the GED program started last year, the council only offered classes in the morning, but there was so much demand that they began offering afternoon classes this year. Having two time slots for classes has been especially helpful for students with jobs that have changing hours, who otherwise might have to drop out halfway through the program if their work hours shifted to the same time frame, Burchart said.
She also commended Jefferson State Community College for adding another line item to its budget to pay for a second educator to come and oversee the afternoon sessions.
“The population of our GED classes tends to be about [ages] 29 to 45, which is older than your normal GED class,” said Marshall. Many of the students at the GED program are parents looking to set a positive example for their children. Others are looking to obtain the skills that will allow them to get a better job to provide more for their children. Marshall talked about how one mother in the program has been able to pursue a job as a nursing assistant since getting her GED.
A number of GED students also come from the nearby Jimmie Hale and Brother Bryan missions. “They’re some of our most committed students,” said Phyllis Vinson, one of the GED program’s instructors. She explained that she works closely with the educational directors at the two missions to help the clients pass the GED test.
“The Literacy Council helps the Jimmie Hale or Brother Bryan clients get the skills they need,” Marshall said. She told the story of one GED student who was a client at the Jimmie Hale Mission and who was a recovering addict. He was having trouble passing the GED test, but the educators at the Literacy Council and the staff of the mission helped him study and prepare until he finally passed, and he now works at a local car dealership.
“It really falls in line with our mission to help people work to attain second chances,” Burchart said.