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POSTED: September 11, 2007 5:03 a.m.
Tucked away on Highway 301 north, just outside Ludowici city limits, is a small building that houses the Altamaha Technical College Academic Support Center. People of different backgrounds and ages visit the center  on weekdays to enhance their education and prepare themselves for the job market.
The center is not a high school, but it is a place for adult learning for people  who want to obtain their GED and improve their lifestyles.
“This program has come a long way since it first started in Long County, Betty Baker, the center’s lead instructor, said.
The program was started in  Long County in 1996, and offers GED test preparation and employment skills. English as a second language is among the classes provided.
This year, the program has about 20 daytime students and a dozen evening students.
Daytime hours are 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to noon Friday.
At night, classes take place from 5-9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursdays.
“Last fiscal year, 165 students completed 12 hours or more of instruction,” Baker said.
“I was a high-school dropout, and thought I could not do much. But with a lot of encouragement, I got my GED,” she said. “When I received my GED, there was not a structured environment to come to and prepare for the GED.
Baker graduated from Brewton Parker in 1999.
“When I graduated, my desire was to teach others and let them know they could make it,” she said.
The GED preparation is self-paced. But there is some group instruction. Each student has an educational plan. The average time to complete GED preparation coursework is six months.
“A large number of students come in at a low level. Approximately one third of the U.S. population is functionally illiterate,” Sandy Williams, Altamaha’s adult education director for Long, Wayne, Appling, and Jeff Davis counties, said.
“People are functionally illiterate when they are unable to use reading, writing and computational skills in everyday life to fill our a job application, read traffic signs, read a newspaper or understand a school bus schedule, among many other daily functions,” she said. “We test to find out where students are academically and work with them on their weak areas. Then, they can get through much faster.  
Last year, the center had 28 GED graduates.
“We have a full ceremony (with cap and gown) twice a year,” Baker said. “The students are excited to know they can still graduate with a cap and gown. They start with small goals, which lead to bigger goals such as obtaining their GED.”
Williams said, “Our teachers are really good at encouraging them. We assist in developing work skills, helping them find jobs, and building self-esteem.
“Our retention rate is very high. The retention rate for the state of Georgia is 44 percent. Our retention rate is 53 percent. This means 53 percent of the students stayed long enough to advance from one level to another.”
Baker said, “We had one man who was 84 years old when he started. He dropped out of school during the depression because he had to work and help the family. As an adult, he helped his children to go to college. Yet, his grandchildren had to read his mail for him,.
“He came to classes for over a year until his eyesight began to fail. When he started, he was reading on a second-grade level, but he could read at a sixth-grade level when he left. He was so proud that he could read his own mail, she said.
Darren Henry said it is a good learning experience.
He plans to attend Universal Technical Institute, and aims to become a master mechanic and then start his own business.
“It is like a second chance,” said 22-year-old Kimberly Jones, who plans to attend college to become a doctor of veterinary medicine.
Eric Thigpen of Hinesville plans to get his GED and then a better-paying job.
Baker and Williams see the difference the program has made in students’ lives.
“It is very rewarding when you see people feel they can do it,” Williams said.
 

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