Always touting the importance of education to her two children, Mesa resident Teresa Ornelas said she sometimes felt like a hypocrite.
The 25-year-old attended high school, but even when she was there, “school was weird for me,” she said.
So she dropped out.
“I’m preaching it to them, but I have to do it,” she said to herself year after year. Multiple times she looked up information about GED classes, but it wasn’t until January that she enrolled.
Friday night, Ornelas will graduate with her GED diploma in a ceremony at Mesa’s Dobson High School, along with about 80 others. They’ve all gone through GED — or general educational development — programs in the Mesa Unified School District and Tempe Union High School District. The General Educational Development Tests are a series of five exams — reading, writing, math, social studies and science — designed to measure high school equivalency.
Gilbert resident Shadoe Farnsworth, 23, said getting to class wasn’t easy without a car, but she made it a priority. She watched her cousin taking classes and saw it — at first — as an opportunity to get out of the house.
But now, Farnsworth, like Mesa’s Ornelas, has bigger plans: college.
Having watched her grandmother suffer with dementia, Farnsworth plans to enroll in a community college in the fall to study counseling.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to learn about,” she said. Her goal is to become a mental health technician. “I didn’t think it was possible before,” Farnsworth said.
A report released in December shows Arizona ranked fourth in the country for adult educational gains. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, adults who complete Adult Secondary Education and earn their high school diploma by passing the GED Test can earn an additional $9,000 a year over adults who don’t have a diploma.
In 2010, the latest report available, more than 13,000 Arizona adults earned their high school diploma by passing the GED Test.
Maricruz Padilla, 36, of Mesa, said she wanted to show her four children — especially her son at Dobson High School — that graduation was important. That prompted her to enrolled in classes. She will graduate Friday, just a few days before her son graduates from high school.
“I need them to see a good example and follow me,” she said. “My 9-year-old son tells his friends, ‘My mom got her GED. She passed all her classes. I’m so proud of her.’”
Chadd Smith, 24, of Gilbert, said he was living with friends when he was 17.
“When you’re living on your own at 17, high school is not on your mind,” he said.
Seven years later, he’s decided to enter the Air Force. But he needed his GED diploma first.
With that goal being achieved, he’s decided to get going. He’ll start college classes in the fall.
Ornelas said there are a lot of excuses to come up with when faced with going back to school.
“Just keep going to the classes. I think a lot of people have a lot of excuses. It’s just easier to do it,” she said. “It feels so good that I just did it.”
Christine Niven, adult education specialist for the Mesa district, said many of this year’s GED graduates are planning to attend college.
“Their excitement is contagious. It’s hard to put into words,” she said.
There are about 150 people enrolled in adult education through Mesa this month, she said.
“It’s been going up the past few years.”
There are some changes coming. The state is moving to a Web-based test. The exam itself — and thus the curriculum to teach it — is going to soon be aligned with the Common Core Standards being adopted by states nationwide.
Then there’s the funding. For the current fiscal year, the federal government gave the state-approved adult education program about $12 million. The Arizona programs were required to come up with a match for the three-to-one grant, a total of about $4.4 million.
The budget for next fiscal year, which was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer this week, does not include any money for adult education.
“We’re still looking at our options. We’re waiting to thoroughly analyze and review the budget that was passed and realize the impact of that budget,” said Ryan Ducharme, spokesman for the state Department of Education. “Once we do that we’ll make a determination on what steps we want to pursue going forward.”