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It's never too late to learn

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Marion County Adult Education Center helps people earn their GED; ranked top five in state

By Stevie Lowery

Sept. 15, 2011, Roger Tungate's life changed in an instant.

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After 29 years of working as a maintenance tech at North American Pipe in Springfield, the business closed.

Tungate, 51, of Lebanon suddenly found himself unemployed and without a high school education. He had dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, and had never earned his GED.

"I was stuck," Tungate said. "I had to do something to get another job. I had to. I didn't have no other choice."

Within a few weeks of losing his job, Tungate visited the Marion County Adult Education Center in Lebanon to learn more about earning his GED. Tungate had a reading disability that would make earning his GED difficult, but not impossible.

"It was more scary than anything but I was determined I was going to get this," Tungate said.

Tungate worked with the staff at the Marion County Adult Education Center for nearly a year before earning his GED.

But, it was well worth it, he said.

"I'm really proud of it," Tungate said. "I have it framed and it's sitting right beside my bed and I look at it every morning. It's something special. It makes you feel better inside."

Tungate is still looking for a job, however. He's applied for jobs since earning his GED, and even with 29 years of experience, companies are still looking for someone with additional education. The staff at the adult education center is now trying to help him further his education, possibly at a technical school.

The staff's eagerness to help people like Tungate is just one reason why the Marion County Adult Education Center is ranked No. 5 out of 120 adult education programs in the state. The Marion County Board of Education recognized the center recently for that achievement, and also for receiving "excellent" program status for the 2011-12 school year.

John Sparrow is in his 12th year as an instructor at the center, and he said it's the best job he's ever had. When he started working at the center in 2001, he helped a 65-year-old woman earn her GED.

"She just wanted to show her grandkids that it was possible," he said.

In addition to working at the center, Sparrow also goes to the Marion County Detention Center twice a week to help inmates earn their GED. Between July 1, 2011, and June 30 of this year, 29 inmates earned their GED. Since July 1, 15 more inmates have received their GED. According to Sparrow, the jail's substance abuse program requires the inmates to go to GED class. Earning their GED gives the inmates more options once they are released, according to Laura Thompson, who is also an instructor at the Marion County Adult Education Center.

"They don't have to go back to possibly whatever got them in there in the first place," she said.

Thompson, who has been an instructor at the center for three years, said the task of getting your GED can be intimidating for some people. But, she can usually put people at ease by telling them that she, herself, is a GED recipient. After being home-schooled, in 2001 Thompson visited the Marion County Adult Education Center and met with Sparrow. She earned her GED, and went on to earn a four-year degree at Sullivan University. Now, she earns a living by helping other people earn their GED. Within the past few years, she's noticed a large increase in the number of older students who have either lost their jobs or have realized that they have to have a GED to get a job.

During the 2011-12 school year, the center helped 73 people earn their GED, which far exceeded the center's goal of 43.

"We were really rockin' last year," Thompson said.

One of those 73 GED recipients was Michelle Williams, 40, of Lebanon.

Williams quit school at 16, got married at 17, and at age 26 she began struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.

"I'd use anything I could get my hands on... prescription medication, cocaine, anything," Williams said.

On Aug. 8, 2010, she made the decision that she wanted to become clean and sober, and she's been in the recovery process for two years now.

She also decided that she wanted to further her education and become a drug and alcohol counselor. But, first, she would have to earn her GED.

"Getting my GED or getting my high school diploma was never something I thought about when I was addicted," she said. "After I got clean and sober and got a relationship with God... I decided I wanted to do something different."

Williams said she also draws disability, but it's not something she wants to do for the rest of her life. She also wanted to set a good example to her daughter.

"I have a 20-year-old daughter that quit school at 17... I wanted to show her that it can be done," Williams said.

And she did just that.

After months of dedicating several hours a day, every day studying at the adult education center, Williams earned her GED this past spring.

"It's something I never thought I would do, especially at my age," Williams said.

But, with help from Thompson and Sparrow, Williams is one step closer to her goal of working in counseling or social work.

And she has this advice for anyone out there who hasn't earned a high school diploma or GED.

"There are people here to help you," Williams said. "You just have to be willing. You have to want it."

Adult and Family Learning Center...

Martha Spalding, the family literacy instructor at the Adult and Family Learning Center in Lebanon, has worked with people from all over the world.

For 12 years, she has been helping people from Mexico, Japan, China, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Vietnam, even Turkey, improve their English speaking skills and also earn their GED.

She, herself, has tried to learn as much Spanish as possible in order to help her large number of Hispanic students.

"It's hard. But, it's good because now I understand how hard it is for them," Spalding said.

Spalding remembers one woman from Mexico who began coming to the Adult Family and Learning Center in 2003. The woman didn't speak any English, and at the time she had four children. She would walk all the way from her home on Fairground Road to the center, which is located at 102 Hamilton Heights in Lebanon, with all of her children in tow, including one in a stroller. The woman eventually had two more children, and she and her husband moved to a townhouse in Lebanon. Her husband works at a local factory, and thanks to her improving English speaking skills, she has a job at a local restaurant.

"My ESL students are some of the hardest working students," Spalding said. "They just want a better life."

Many of the families and individual students have been receiving help at the center for several years.

Since 2000, the Adult and Family Learning Center has served approximately 238 students who have wanted to earn a GED and 120 English as a Second Language students. Approximately 145 of these students have participated in the Family Literacy program, and 57 of them earned their GED.

One of Spalding's students has been with her since she began in 2000.

 "No one from her family graduated from high school. I would love to see this student get her GED," Spalding said. "And I'm also determined to make sure her daughters graduate."

For more information about the Adult and Family Learning Center, call (270) 692-1253.

Want to know more?

The Marion County Adult Education Center is located at 214 North Harrison Street (old Shop building). The center is open Monday through Friday 8-4. The center is also open on Tuesday evening by appointment. Tutoring for the GED is free. The GED test is given monthly. The cost is $60, but there are opportunities to receive a voucher that will pay the $60 fee.

Other services offered at the center include Workforce tests for local industries, the Bennett Mechanical test, and a TABE-A (pre-college test).

Taylora Schlosser is the center's director. For more information, contact the Adult Education Center at (270) 692-2266.