Knitting Together the Loose Ends

Lifeworks’ Wrap-Around GED Program

Words by Jessica Devenyns  Photos by Eric Morales

Education is like a skein of yarn. It is layers of information wound in an orderly fashion to form the shape of a person’s being. It must be done carefully and consistently or else you may hit a snag.

Despite the best intentions of educators, there are still students who will hit that snag and unravel themselves out of the system. While this happens for many reasons, once you’ve unwoven yourself from the educational fabric of the school system, it can be difficult to re-enter. That is when programs like Lifeworks’ GED step in.

“We work with a population that not everybody wants to serve, and we try to be really flexible because we know where they’re coming from. We believe very passionately that you can’t change anything in your life without education in some shape or form,” says Jamie Rich, the head GED instructor of the program.

The knowledge that education is the key to success is something that is familiar to many of us. However, most also don’t face the set of challenges that Lifeworks’ students surmount. “Our students come from a lower socio-economic status,” begins Rich who lists the disadvantages her students face. “A lot of our kids are teen parents. I would say that I see a lot of undiagnosed learning disabilities” as well as “high instances of trauma.”

“They feel empowered for the first time in their life about education.”

Although Lifeworks enthusiastically extends a hand to those who are looking to complete their education, even they will admit that it doesn’t come without difficulties. “It is a self-start, stay-focused program, which means after a kiddo drops out of high school, they lose a lot of the momentum and support of the public school system, so they are kind of on their own after that,” admits Rich. Not only that, but the effort required to gain a GED is significant when compared with a traditional high school diploma. Rich comments that it is more common than not to see students enter the program only to leave shortly thereafter citing reasons of scheduling conflicts, economic insufficiencies, and stigma against the degree. “It definitely strikes me as a tax on the most vulnerable among us,” laments Rich.

With the odds stacked against the students from multiple angles, Rich says that Lifeworks aims to act as a Sherpa guiding these young adults through the various facets of adult life, not just their education. “It’s part of the wrap around services model,” she explains about the GED program. “Someone might enter our organization to receive services for one thing, but chances are they will need other services to help support them in that endeavor… We want to be able to help somebody in as many different domains of their life at once, if possible.” With a transitional living program, workforce development, teen parent services, and a permanent supportive housing program included in Lifeworks’ approach to individual betterment, that might just be possible.

“We want to be able to help somebody in many different domains of their life at once, if possible.”

Despite the obstacles facing the Lifeworks GED program, those who attend regularly find that the class is a unique source of inspiration. According to Anna Adami, the AmeriCorps volunteer who is currently teaching at Lifeworks, because it is self-paced, “They feel empowered for the first time in their life about education.” For many, this empowerment comes from an unlikely source: relationships. “They get to have a relationship with me, their teacher, which I think is huge for them,” says Adami.

For both educators and students, Lifeworks replaces the safety net and relationships that were unwound when students left high school. With support systems accessible for every aspect of their lives, those who are able to withstand the rigors of the self-start GED program give themselves a framework from which they can weave together the frayed ends of their previous life experiences. Whether that be attending seminars where Planned Parenthood speaks about family planning or benefiting from the individualized “blending of instruction styles,” those who come to the GED program are driven to make the grade.

Adami attributes the students’ unflinching determination to succeed to the community that is fostered within the Lifeworks GED classes. “The community here is strong. We’re all learning with each other and from each other.” And that makes all the difference between learning and an education.

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