CHELSEA PURGAHN, email@example.com
Edmundo and Levi Fuentes have done a lot together over the years as father and son. Tuesday evening, the 46-year-old father and 20-year-old son walked across the stage with 66 other graduates in the Tyler Junior College gymnasium to receive their GED diplomas.
"When I saw a billboard around the Loop that said there was a high percentage of students dropping out, I really thought about how these guys had an opportunity that I didn't have, so I started researching to see if there was a way I could get a GED," Edmundo said. Once he registered for classes, he convinced his son Levi, who had dropped out his senior year, to keep going to school and take classes with him.
"Everyone who attends this graduation says it's the highlight of their year," Nancy Crawford, Literacy Council of Tyler executive director, said in a news release. "It's very inspiring to watch these adults receive their GED."
Crawford noted that while only 68 adults of all ages walked across the stage, around 150 people total have received their GED in the past year after working with the Literacy Council of Tyler. The organization enrolls 2,200 adult students annually and utilizes over 200 volunteers.
"We want people to stay in school, but when that doesn't happen, we are here to provide this safety net,” Crawford said. "Otherwise, people try to advance in life but get stuck without that diploma."
Every student spends at least six hours a week preparing for the four-part state certified test, which includes reading and language arts, science, social studies and math. While a given class period tends to be focused on one of the four subjects, Crawford says the classes are highly individualized for their students: "We are teaching all the concepts they need to pass (the test), but we're also aware we have different people at different levels."
If there is one person in a social studies class that needs more help with science, Crawford said, they send a volunteer to work individually on science material with that student. She noted that as long as students are showing up and applying themselves, they are welcome to continue their studies with the program.
The father and son have worked full-time while taking night classes over the past year. "When we sit down during dinner, my dad will say, 'Do you know … ' and he’ll tell me something he learned in his history class," Levi said as Edmundo chimed in, saying how much he enjoyed studying World War II, particularly the events at Pearl Harbor. "I think it’s cool that he’s learning new things and I am too. It’s been good to refresh my mind with things I had previously learned in school."
"It's the best graduation in town ... the graduates get to bring however many people they'd like to support them, and it means so much to them because they worked so hard for this," Crawford said.
"This achievement has not been given to you -- you earned it," said Dr. Aubrey Sharpe, commencement speaker and Dean of Continuing Studies at Tyler Junior College. "Wear it proudly, and use it to be a stepping stone to go forward to further education."
Edmundo and Levi will be doing just that, as they recently completed their first day of a seven-week intensive college prep class with the Literacy Council of Tyler and will be starting classes at Tyler Junior College in the fall.
"I thought I could be a role model for (Levi) and other kids who have dropped out of school and to let them know that they still have time, because it’s never too late," Edmundo said, smiling in his cap and gown.
TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM: @Chelsea_Purgahn