Math tutor Gary Gebo helps students with some of the skills they will need for passing their GED test. Classes are available at the Home fire station. Photo by Michelle M. Mondeck, KP News

According to Peninsula School District district statistics, about 79 percent of Peninsula High School freshmen will graduate in four years. A little more that 85 percent graduate by their fifth year, with the other 15 percent labeled as “dropouts.”

A GED (General Education Development) program has existed at the Home fire station for the past 10 years, which has helped many obtain a high school equivalency certificate which can open the path to higher education and better jobs.

The program is funded by the state, and managed by Tacoma Community College (TCC). It operates on a quarter system (fall, winter, spring), with no summer classes.

The Key Peninsula classes are held Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. It costs $35 per quarter, but most, if not all of the tuition cost can be waived, depending upon circumstances.

If morning hours are inconvenient, then an evening program is offered at TCC’s Gig Harbor campus.

Minimum age is 16. If under 19, a release form must be obtained from the local high school. A recent student who finished the program and received his GED was 58 years old. Another finished at 16. Half the students are under 21.

Open enrollment allows students to start anytime and work at their own pace for as long as they are motivated, or until they pass the GED. There are no grades, nor course credits, nor mandatory attendance.

“We do not babysit,” said John Ellickson, the teacher for the last four years.

“There are usually 16 students registered. About 40 percent do not apply themselves and dropout. Eighty percent of the ones who finish the program complete it in two quarters. The longest that I have seen for completion is four quarters,” he said.

The subjects tested for the GED are: math, science, social studies, English writing and English literature. The entire high school curriculum is covered through a reading and tutoring program, with no lab and very little lecture.

“Math and English writing seem to be the most troubling subjects, where we spend the most time,” Ellickson said. “An assessment at the start of the program identifies the areas where each student needs to concentrate.”

When the students are ready, they get tested to assess their knowledge in each subject. “Ninety percent of those that pass our assessment, also pass the official GED tests,” he said.

According to Ellickson, students that drop out of school, do so for a lot of reasons: pregnancy, a need to work to provide for a family’s survival, a failure of parents to provide help and guidance, or just being young and stupid.

Ellickson told about one of his GED students who had struggled for seven years as a cook for a chain restaurant unable to advance or get a pay increase. Shortly after obtaining his GED, he was accepted into a management position with much better pay to support his family.

Students present in a recent classroom were asked “Why are you here?” Their responses were: “So I can get a job. So I can earn more money than I can now, and so I can move on to higher education.” Every one of them was looking for the magic key to a locked door.

Jerry McCort volunteers his time as a tutor to help Ellickson with English writing and literature and Gary Gebo volunteers to tutor math.

For registration and questions, contact Tracy Clark at (253) 460-2356. If you want to help tutor, call John Ellickson at (253) 606-7638.

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