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Fayette Community Action Agency addressing dropout program

| Thursday, April 22, 2010

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 226 students dropped out of the six school districts in Fayette County in the 2007-08 school year. This is the last year statistics were available.

"We have a dropout problem in the Fayette County school districts, and that's why our GED program is so important," said Fayette County Community Action Agency's education project manager Sue Wagner, who is also a certified teacher.

Sometimes, young people don't realize how important education is until they reach their mid-20s, Wagner said.

"After students drop out of high school, they struggle to try to make it on their own," she said. "When they realize that they can't get jobs because they don't have a high school education, that's when they try to do something about it."

Wagner said high school dropouts, including prison inmates and women suffering from substance abuse problems, have a chance to change their lives utilizing programs offered by the Fayette County Community Action Agency Inc.

The agency's education center in Connellsville, which has operated for 27 years, focuses on education goals and offers participants an opportunity to improve their lives.

"Our program offers assistance for people to earn the Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma and then go on to post-secondary education or employment," Wagner said. "The program helps students to improve reading and math skills and to pass the Test of General Education Development, or what is commonly referred to as GED tests."

Wagner said the education classes are offered free to the public.

Classes meet in Connellsville from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The center is located in the Greater Connellsville Community Center, 201 E. Fairview Ave., Connellsville. Night classes are held 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Classes are offered in Uniontown at FCCAA's Family Service Center, 108 N. Beeson Ave., from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Wagner said the agency offers two classes at the Fayette County Jail and one class at Another Way, a halfway house in Uniontown for women suffering from substance abuse problems.

"We assist the women to get them ready to re-enter the community and employment," Wagner said. "We also help them with referrals to housing, Women, Infants and Children, Food Stamps and resources for their babies. It started as a way to provide GED classes for the women and has grown."

Wagner said GED classes are very important because of the number of high school dropouts in Fayette County.

"We have student orientation, and we prepare them for GED testing," Wagner said. "We have 14 to 17 students in each class, and we expect them to take it seriously. An assessment of skills identifies each student's strengths and weaknesses and helps the teacher determine what kind of instruction is needed."

Students enrolled in the GED program need to be at the eighth-grade level or higher, according to Wagner.

"We offer a literacy group from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday to prepare students who are below the eighth-grade level," she said.

Wagner said teachers check to see if the students are weak in certain areas of math, reading and writing.

"We approach the learning process different from the high schools," she said. "We try to identify specific learning styles, and we match our teaching strategy to each of the learners as needed. Each of FCCAA's certified teachers is trained to work with a diverse, multilevel classroom and each works to promote active learning where the students can see they are making progress. If they don't see immediate, positive outcomes, they won't come back."

Wagner said the program can accept students who are 17 years of age and older.

"I'm dealing with students who are 18 years of age and older. The average range of the students is in their mid-20s. We have one woman who is in her 60s and a few others in their 40s."

After students pass the GED tests, Wagner said teachers try to get them interested in going to a post-secondary school.

"Our graduates go on to the Laurel Business Institute, Pennsylvania Institute of Health and Technology, Penn State Fayette, Westmoreland County Community College, California University of Pennsylvania and Pitt at Greensburg," Wagner said.

According to Pennsylvania Department of Education statistics, 80 percent of students with a goal to pass the GED tests will be successful. About 50 to 60 students a year obtain a GED diploma through the program.

"We're assisting people to move on with their lives," she said.

For more information about the program or to enroll in GED classes, call 724-626-1070.

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