GED classes can improve lives, self-esteem.

One single mother wants a good job so that she can provide for her family. Another single mom wants to set an example for her children. Both are trying to improve their lives by earning their High School Equivalency (HSE) certificate at St. Benedict Education Center.

They are two of several participants in SBEC’s Employment Advancement and Retention Network (EARN) program who are also taking GED classes to prepare them for testing which could lead to a high school level equivalency diploma. The GED, or General Education Development testing, measures knowledge and skills in four subject areas, including language arts, mathematics, science , and social studies.

The program is offered at SBEC through the Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit 5, and is one of more than 3,200 locations throughout the United States and Canada. The GED program has undergone several revisions since the 1940s, but one recent change has been beneficial for the two women from SBEC. Both are over the age of 22, and the revised rule allows them to count any hours spent in GED classes toward their hourly requirements at SBEC.

A 25-year-old mother of two young children, also expecting another child, said the change in policy by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has allowed her to continue her education and to earn her high school equivalency diploma.

“I have goals in life,” said Ashley (not her real name), who has been taking GED classes since the end of January. “I want to own my own house. I want a good-paying job I can actually keep. I don’t want temp jobs. I need something that’s going to help us in our future.”

Circumstances, including having a young child at the time, prevented Ashley from getting a high school diploma as a teenager. “I was in the last two weeks before graduation, but I was missing credits,” she said. “They wanted me to go back for a month in summer to get the credits I needed to graduate, but I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have a babysitter for my child.”

Due to her past struggles in trying to find employment, Ashley decided to continue her education. “Not having a diploma has held me back,” she said.

Another woman in the EARN program took a much different path that led to SBEC and the GED classes offered here. Jackie (not her real name), 42, whose children are now ages 21 and 7, tried a job training program in eastern Pennsylvania and later took GED classes in Buffalo, N.Y., but neither worked for her.

A dispute with staff members at Jackie’s high school over her course of study led her to drop out of school and enter Keystone Job Corps Center, an educational and job training center in Luzerne County. “I scored high in math at Keystone, but I had to resign from there when my mother became ill and I had to go home to take care of her,” she said. Then, while living in Buffalo, Jackie tried to take GED classes several times, but circumstances stopped her from doing so.

She took advantage of the opportunity to take GED classes at SBEC because getting a diploma has always been one of her goals. “I don’t necessarily want it for employment,” Jackie said. “It’s something I want to do to show my kids that I’ve accomplished something. I want to be a role model for my youngest child. I come home with my homework, so I’m trying to show her that schoolwork is more important than being on her phone.”

Both women have enjoyed their time taking GED classes at SBEC, and praised the instructor from the Intermediate Unit, Wayne Bowersox. “He’s good, and he’s always happy and positive with the students,” Jackie said. Ashley is also impressed with the teacher’s skills. “He knows exactly what we need in our career path and how we’re going to get there,” she said.

Both women also enjoy shopping with their “Benny Bucks” at Treasures & Such, the SBEC store for program participants, and occasionally can find educational items for themselves and their children.  Jackie said she loves the selection of children’s books at the store. “The children like to read stories, and there are new books in the store every week.”

Ashley said buying items at Treasures & Such, such as shampoo, can save her money. “That’s three or four dollars I can use toward paying bills at home,” she said.

She said that being on welfare is not enough to live on, and that the people taking GED classes are trying to improve their lives. “We want a career path to the jobs we want, and now is the right time,” she said.