Below is a column recently published in the San Antonio Express News about Palo Alto's Adult Learning Academy. If you would like to learn more about obtaining your GED, please contact Program Manager, Dolores Zapata, at 486-3410.
Fabulous group to aid Palo Alto GED grads
For the past six years, a fabulous group of San Antonio women have helped put on a highly successful fundraiser toward a singular goal: Helping other women men, too pay for and earn their high-school equivalency diploma.
In the context of a city pushing higher education and its four-year state university working toward Tier One status, a GED might not seem like a major academic milestone. But for students congregated in blue-, pink- and low-income white-collar jobs, a GED represents sacrifice and promise.
Led by former Univisión anchor and talk show host Martha Tijerina, the women who run the Fabulous Holiday Brunch have raised $270,000 in six years, benefiting San Antonio College; $100,000 of it has been endowed at the Alamo Colleges.
This year, they’re turning their attention south to Palo Alto College’s Adult Learning Academy, where 26 GED graduates crossed the stage at graduation recently. Those who were there say it was an emotion-filled experience. It’s an example of how Palo Alto has worked to make the idea of college both familiar and familial to students.
Program manager Dolores Zapata says even the academy’s space in the main administrative building near President Mike Flores’ office suggests its importance.
“They can meet the president,” she says.
It’s no small gesture, as it immediately elevates the student’s place at the college.
Palo Alto has worked to raise academic standards for them, “recasting the program to empower students to reach their potential beyond GED.”
They’re issued ID cards, as are other students. The academy provides individual counseling “so the students feel they’re part of our community and part of the college culture,” she says. “They can go to the tutoring lab and the fitness center, everything our college students enjoy.”
Zapata not only interviews potential students, but members of their families. “I’m talking to the child holding the mother’s hand, or the wife that comes with her husband,” she says.
This pathway to higher learning is profound, especially since adult learners have been so stigmatized. If they say their public school failed them, Zapata listens. “When those conversations are being had, we learn so much more,” she says.
Palo Alto believes these new approaches are more holistic and hopeful and says results were evident at graduation. Wearing the same caps and gowns as students earning associate degrees, 26 GED students were handed diplomas and shook hands with Flores and other dignitaries.
“I can’t tell you how moving it was,” Zapata says. “I could see achievement all over them.”
Fifty-one students are now enrolled in the program’s four eight-week sessions. Classes are held days, evenings and in English and Spanish. Instructors are public school teachers who are degreed and board certified.
Students range in age from 17 to 61. They’re mostly Latino and mostly women (the school is working on that).
“Some of them love their jobs and have been asked to earn their GEDs so they can be promoted,” Zapata says. Others definitely have intentions of going to college.
The program costs $99. The college administers the four-part GED test, which cost another $135. Texas now allows students to take each of the four parts separately, at $33.75 a pop. It’s telling that students schedule their tests on pay days, because that’s when they can afford them.
The GED fundraiser — which will honor outgoing SAC President Robert Zeigler for his key support in it will help Palo Alto students with costs of classes and testing. Some will get college scholarships, too, which brings us back to the women of the fabulous brunch.
Every event motivates them to do more. So, here’s a story that might assist as they work on selling tickets and tables for the seventh annual brunch Dec. 13 at the Omni Hotel.
As Zapata shook hands with her latest crop of GED graduates, she also whispered something to each of them.
“You can do this again in two years,” she said.
Indeed, next time, they could be receiving associate degrees, fitting right in with the city’s education agenda that starts with Pre-K.
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