Webster County Family Connection Helps Young Parents Earn GED Diplomas

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Recent GED graduate Tapanga Monkus is currently in school to become a licensed practical nurse.

By Diana St. Lifer

One of the more than 7,500 Georgia residents who earned a General Educational Development (GED) diploma last year was from Webster County. This year, at least three more will follow suit. While these numbers may seem insignificant, they reflect Webster County Family Connection’s concerted efforts to support parents on this path.

“This is huge news for Webster County,” said Diane Wills, Webster County Family Connection executive director. Webster, with 2,300 residents, is the third-least populated county in the state. According to Georgia KIDS COUNT data, 17 adults from Webster County received a GED Credential between 2014 and 2023, which averages to less than two graduates per year.

Wills said Webster County Family Connection’s commitment to removing obstacles that stand between parents and their GED diploma will result in more graduates. “Our goal is to increase the number of graduates to eight this year, and then we’d like to see at least five students complete the program each year moving forward,” she said.

The Collaborative—one of six participating in Georgia Family Connection Partnership’s (GaFCP) Family Support Cohort—began hosting Parent Cafes in 2022 and established the Learning Center the following year, a room inside the Community Center where the Collaborative is housed. With no day care or Head Start program in the county, the Learning Center is an invaluable resource for parents.

“Before we established the Learning Center, parents told us they couldn’t attend GED classes due to the lack of day care,” Wills said. “We wanted to bridge the gap, working with parents who dropped out of school—and with their children while the parents attend classes.”

The Learning Center, a room inside the Community Center where the Collaborative is housed, was established in 2023.

In Webster, 46.5% of teens ages 16 through 19 dropped out of high school between 2018 and 2022, compared to the state’s average of 4.6%. The rate of teens between ages 16 and 19 in Webster not in school and not working is 54.7%, compared to 7.9% in Georgia.

The Collaborative offers financial assistance to those who aspire to earn a GED diploma by paying for testing fees and providing gas cards for the 50-mile roundtrip to the testing center in Americus. “Most young parents don’t have money for these tests or transportation, so they have to pay someone to take them to the testing site,” Wills said.

Margie Everett, a GED instructor at South Georgia Technical College, said transportation is just one barrier. “Many are older students who have families and jobs to juggle in addition to studying and attending classes,” Everett said. “And others live in households where education and attending school is not deemed important.” In Webster, only 9.3% of residents earned a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2022, compared to 33.6% in Georgia.

Webster County Family Connection is working to change that. “Obtaining a GED diploma opens up better jobs, increases self-worth, and helps parents be better role models who fully value and understand the importance of education for their own children,” Wills said.

Everett agrees. “Parents earning their GED set the example of just how important obtaining a diploma is for their family,” she said. “It lets children see how their parents set a goal, work and study for the exam, and graduate. As the saying goes, ‘An apple does not fall far from the tree.’ Children who live in a home where parents value the importance of education and attending school will most likely stay in school and graduate.”

Brittany Lee is a 34-year-old single mom of five children ages 3 months to 15 years. “If I could turn back time, I would have stayed in school and graduated, which is why I hope to pursue a GED diploma,” said Lee, who dropped out of high school in 11th grade to give birth to her oldest child. “I want to be a positive role model to my kids and have them see that I didn’t give up and that I have the energy and drive to go back to school and get my diploma.”

Everett said Webster County Family Connection is instrumental in supporting dreams for community members like Lee, who hopes to one day open a restaurant. “They rally behind our students and encourage them to know they’re important—and what they’re doing is important,” she said.

Without Family Connection’s support and assistance, according to Wills, the young adults in Webster County wouldn’t have completed the GED requirements. “Making a difference in a small county with limited resources and access to children before they enter school is a challenge,” she said. “It’s hard to compete for grants and funding because the cost of hiring a qualified person to run programs is high compared to the number of people who benefit from those programs.”

The Collaborative experienced this roadblock when attempting to hire a child care liaison to work with children ages birth to 4 of parents in GED classes, with the ultimate goal of providing more services. “As the program spread and more parents wanted these services, we could then write grants to grow the program,” Wells explained. That, however, did not happened and the position was eliminated due to low participation.

Webster County Family Connection is addressing this setback by training volunteers to work with children as their parents pursue a diploma or participate in job skills training. “We’ll continue to find ways to support our parents,” Wills said.

Lee said child care will be her biggest consideration when she decides to return to school—and she knows she can turn to Family Connection for the support she needs.

“Webster County Family Connection has helped me in so many ways,” said Lee, who participates in the Collaborative’s monthly family game night and utilizes free resources and services the Collaborative provides, such as the food bank and baby supplies. “Mrs. Wills is why I am where I am. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t even be thinking about getting a GED diploma.”

Krystin Dean
GaFCP Communications Specialist

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