GED program grads celebrate achievements

Posted: June 11, 2014

The Winchester Star

Kialeen Potterton takes a picture of Betty McDaniel (left) of Winchester and Bonnie Landis of Gore, who had just received their GED certificates at the recognition ceremony. The two 53-year-olds were in the same class at Handley High School when they dropped out their junior year. Potterton has been a friend and mentor to McDaniel.
Betty Owens (right), of Winchester, gets a hug from Amy Judd, LFCC Manager of the Adult Basic Education Program, after receiving her GED certificate during Tuesday’s recognition ceremony at the Lord Fairfax Community College Corron Community Development Center. The ceremony also recognized English for Speakers of Other Languages attendance awards recipients and U.S. Citizenship recipients.
Ann Bailey Kerr (right), of Winchester, receives her GED certificate from Amy Judd, manager of the Adult Basic Education Program at Lord Fairfax Community College during the 2013-2014 recognition ceremony held Tuesday on the school’s Middletown campus. Kerr also received a scholarship to LFCC and will begin school there in the fall.
Elizabeth Creamer, an adviserfor workforce development in the office of the secretary of commerce and trade for Gov. Terry McAuliffe, was the speaker for the event.

MIDDLETOWN — Sandra Thompson dropped out of high school when she was 16 because being pregnant was frowned upon by school officials.

She made a vow then to her mother that she would eventually get her General Educational Development (GED) credential — or the equivalent of a high school diploma.

It was a promise made and a promise kept.

On Tuesday, at the age of 60, the Winchester resident was among the area students recognized for achieving the credential through the Northern Shenandoah Valley Adult Education program.

Now the proud mother and grandmother plans to become a certified nursing assistant and eventually a nurse.

“This is giving me a lot more independence and self-worth,” she said of her accomplishment.

Tuesday’s ceremony was held at Lord Fairfax Community College’s Corron Community Development Center. The college has managed the program since October 2012.

This year, about 240 students attained their GED through the program, which serves 945 adults in Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties.

However, only 39 attended Tuesday’s ceremony.

Elizabeth Creamer, an adviser for workforce development in the office of the secretary of commerce and trade for Gov. Terry McAuliffe, was the speaker for the event. She attained her GED after dropping out of high school in her junior year and was 40 when she got her first job with benefits.

She said that of an estimated 836,000 adults in Virginia without a high school diploma, only 17,940 — or about 2 percent — earned their GED in the past year.

“Whether you’re 18 or 70, you did this with adult-sized responsibility at home and at the job,” she said, adding that not only do the recipients earn economic empowerment with a GED, but that it also makes it more likely that their children will finish school.

“Never quit going to school or believe that education doesn’t matter,” she told them. “Degrees matter in terms of livelihood and health.”

Bonnie Landis of Gore and Betty McDaniel of Winchester, both 53, were in the same class at Handley High School when they dropped out their junior year.

Unbeknownst to them, they each attained their GED this year and graduated on Tuesday.

“I said, ‘What’s your name? Oh, my God. I know you,’” Landis said when she saw McDaniel. “After I saw her, I knew I was fine.”

Landis has worked for 31 years in a sheet metal factory. She decided to go back to school because she felt like she was missing something.

“I feel awesome,” she said before the ceremony. “I’m proud of myself.”

McDaniel, a former Chick-fil-A supervisor, wanted to end the year on a good note after a personal injury and her husband’s health got in the way.

“You have to do something for yourself,” she said. “As a mother, you always put everybody ahead of yourself.”

Betty Owens, 43, of Winchester had children at an early age and never got a chance to finish school. Throughout the years she juggled two jobs, dealt with numerous health issues and often worked 20 hours a day. She will soon start on the nursing career path at LFCC.

“I did this for me,” she said smiling. “I can’t explain it in words. It’s a big accomplishment for me. It’s amazing.”

Mariana Ramirez-Garcia, 25, came to America from Mexico when she was 14. She quit school with only a few months remaining in her senior year, but decided to get her GED a year ago and will soon start classes at LFCC to become a licensed practical nurse.

She did it to make her father proud and to set a good example for her children.

“I feel so proud of myself,” she said. “I’m excited. Nervous.”

In January, the test was revamped for the first time in a decade and students could no longer take the pencil and paper version. It also became more rigorous.

Ann Bailey Kerr, 17, of Winchester, dropped out of school due to anxiety and depression. She was one of the few graduates Tuesday night who took the new exam.

“It was definitely a challenging test, but if you study and know the material, you can easily achieve your goals,” she said, adding that she learned a lot about herself through the process.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com