Shannon Nickinson: Educators encourage parents to attend GED classes

Winning the school readiness battle begins way before kindergarten.

At T.R. Jackson Pre-K Center in Milton, it goes on every day.

Dawn Alt is the director of Pre-K programs for Santa Rosa Schools. She is the former principal of Oriole Beach Elementary School, a high-poverty school in south Santa Rosa County.

There are 280 students at T.R. Jackson, which also serves families and young children through Head Start and Early Head Start. Both are federal programs that aim to reducing the effect of poverty on families with young children through early education and family training and support.

In the annual survey done by Head Start families, the T.R. Jackson staff found that adults in 54 of those families have not completed high school.

That led Alt and her staff to ask Santa Rosa Adult School to set up a GED class at T.R. Jackson.

Getting the class set up at T.R. Jackson, the Susan Street complex where her parents are already used to coming, was just step one.

To enroll in a GED class there is a $20 fee for a placement test and $30 a semester fee for the course.

“So now you’re asking these families to come up with $50 up front,” she said.

Some couldn’t afford it, so the staff started a scholarship fund. No full scholarships were given — everyone had to pay something toward the fee — but they covered tuition for the eight parents who enrolled the first semester.

“If we can get eight, I’m OK with that,” Alt says.

Head Start families must compete and stick to a plan that includes family goals and academic goals for the child. Including having mom or dad complete her or his GED as a family goal, allows the two parent advocates on staff at TR Jackson to do reminder calls and visits.

Sharrell Ethridge says aside from the obvious educational benefits of finishing high school, the T.R. Jackson parents are learning more.

“They learn to be able to ask, to advocate for their child. And themselves,” she says.

Alt’s goal for next year is to be able to offer child care to her GED-seeking parents during class time.

“I know I can get eight more if we had child care.”


Shannon Nickinson is a fellow at the Studer Community Institute, a Pensacola nonprofit dedicated to using journalistic strategies to improve the quality of life in the community, and is editor of Follow her on Twitter @snickinson. Column courtesy of Context Florida.  

Shannon Nickinson


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