By Bill Knief
At a time when national GED policy is undergoing significant changes, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with someone who has extensive, hands-on experience with the program: Lelia Rascon. It was on a cold, bleak, wintry morning when the schools were on a two hour delay, and I had come in to the office at the regular time in order to get some work done while I had the UNM-Taos administration building on Civic Plaza Drive all to myself.
That’s when Ms. Rascon came in. She explained that she hadn’t heard about the two hour delay, and wanted to know if she could sit inside out of the weather and wait for her GED class to start in the back of the building. I said sure, but it was too bad that she had to wait so long, and she said that was okay, because she always came to class an hour early, since she didn’t have a car and it was the only time her aunt could give her a ride. Otherwise she’d have to walk all the way across town. I said it sounded like getting her GED was pretty important to her, and she started talking.
“If it wasn’t for my auntie, the staff members at UNM-Taos and family members that encourage me to come every day, I probably wouldn’t be able to do it. I’ve gone here for the past six weeks and seen my progress go from a level two to a level five. I’ve scored higher on all my tests except math, and I’ll be taking that here in March, because I want to walk with my class at the UNM-Taos graduation in the spring.
“Marta Romero and the rest of the staff are great here. They take the time out of their day to help you improve your reading, writing and math skills one-on-one. If I don’t understand something the way they are teaching it, I’ll ask them to explain it another way so I can understand it. For them, It’s more about the student than just being here for the job.
“At first I felt embarrassed to ask a question. I’m a lot older than some of the students—I’m 24 now—and I felt like I should already know this stuff. But at the same time I figured if I didn’t ask it, how am I going to improve my skills? My auntie told me, ask questions. It makes you smarter. I’ve gotten a lot of respect from family members and friends because of this. It’s not about embarrassment, it’s about understanding, and if you don’t have the guts to ask a question, you’re going to stay stuck.”
I asked her if working toward her degree had made a difference in her personal life.
“I don’t hang out with the same group of friends I used to hang out with. I dropped out in 9th grade. My mom passed away, and I was in a bad relationship for a while. I didn’t think education was that important to me. I was too into my friends, drugs, alcohol, partying. I didn’t have time for school, you know. Ditching was the thing. One problem from back then is my tattoos. People don’t want to hire me for a job because of them. I’m not a bad person. I know I have the ability to get a good job. I have the brains. But because of them people look down.
“Everybody tells me I’m happier now, that I’m more spiritual. And a lot has to do with coming to these classes. It inspires me. It really does. Honestly, this morning I didn’t want to wake up, but I said to myself, stop thinking stupid and go to class! And I’ll be sitting there when they open up.
“People who succeed in the program inspire me. A few days ago Judy (Judy Hofer, program director) asked me to speak to the class. I didn’t want to do it. I was like why am I going to talk to them? It’s their choice. Nobody talked to me about it; I did it on my own after I got tired of living the life I was living. But I talked a little about my life and it came from the heart. I know I was doing good, because the students asked me questions.
“I know a lot of those people in there. I know their struggles, their weaknesses, their strengths. They’re all smart, they just need to be encouraged. I spoke for a good 15 minutes and one student told me later they wanted to succeed like me, and I haven’t even completed my goal yet—it was amazing!
It was getting close to time for the GED classes to start, so I asked Ms. Rascon what she would say to someone like herself who was thinking about going back to school.
“I would tell them I was in the same situation and I chose the wrong way out,” she said. “I didn’t want to listen to my parents when they were here. I’d say to them the best thing is to get your butt in here to the GED, and do what you have to do. Ask questions. Come prepared. Take notes. If I could have taken the opportunity and done it when I was younger, I probably would have had a degree or something by now. I would have had a place to stay. I would have had food. My parents would have been proud of me.
“But you know, in the long run, like I told my auntie, once I get my GED that is going to prove something to somebody. Not to everybody, but somebody out there.”
Active and potential GED students: please be aware that the current version of the GED test will expire at the end of 2013, and your scores will expire too if you don’t finish and pass the GED test by December 6, 2013. Call 575 737-3695 for more information.