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GED classes at SOM’s Peña Center prepare Valley youths for adult success

Region One’s Auston Cron is shown teaching a General Educational Development (GED) class recently at the John Austin Peña Memorial Center in Edinburg. The GED preparation classes were made available at the UTRGV School of Medicine’s clinic at the Peña Center, in conjunction with South Texas College’s Continuing Education Department. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

By Gail Fagan

EDINBURG, TEXASDEC. 21, 2015 – Ana’s story is an all too familiar one in the Rio Grande Valley.

Ana (her name has been changed to protect her privacy) dropped out of school in the seventh grade, too immature at that time to value going to school, she said. She became pregnant and had a daughter at age 15.

Now 18, Ana works at a pizza restaurant, doing everything from hostessing to washing dishes to help support her child. Add to her responsibilities caring for her four siblings, because her mother was deported to Mexico six months ago.

So when Ana got a chance to take a GED preparation class this summer at the John Austin Peña Memorial Center in Edinburg, she jumped at the chance – even though she needed to beg a ride at times to get there.

“The teacher was really great. If we had questions, he would help us before moving on,” she said.

Now that she is a mother, older and more mature, Ana said, learning is more interesting to her.

“Now it is exciting. I like to learn new stuff,” she said. “I want to learn more and move forward with my life.”

And although she has completed the GED preparation course, she realizes she needs more practice and confidence before actually taking the GED exam.

Ana was among 12 people who enrolled in the GED preparation class, made available at the UTRGV School of Medicine’s clinic at the Peña Center this summer.

The class was arranged by the School of Medicine in conjunction with South Texas College’s Continuing Education Department. STC provided the GED class instructor and financial aid for Peña Center clients and others recommended to the site where the class was offered. Financial scholarship assistance was also available to qualified students.

The Hidalgo County Department of Juvenile Justice also provided significant support for the classes, said Linda S. Nelson, UTRGV senior director for clinical operations.

“The classes are part of our vision for these adolescents to mature and be prepared for adult living in our Valley,” said Nelson, who oversees the community-driven clinic. “Adolescence is such a tumultuous time in their lives, and with the many forces of drugs, fitting in, health and overall well-being, it is not easy these days for adolescents. We are trying to get them on a successful course that will prepare them for higher education, vocational education, employment and other maturing life experiences.”

The center, owned by the Hidalgo County Health Department, serves youths from 12-18 years of age who are at risk with medical, mental health and appetitive drive disorders (alcohol, drugs and tobacco). Clients at the clinic receive interprofessional team care, which means the patient is cared for and interacts at the center with various professionals in primary care and behavioral health, including physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers and rehabilitation counselors, among others.

Students attended the GED classes – each three hours long, held three times a week – for 10 weeks, said Carlos Gallardo, a GED instructor from STC who taught the class. The students studied math, science, social studies and English to prepare for taking the GED exam.

“The class is long and intense,” Gallardo said. “At first, they didn’t want to be there, saying, ‘It’s so long’ or ‘I’m so dumb.’ But once they started understanding the material, they were more excited about it, especially the math. They picked it up really well. They went from not knowing anything from simple arithmetic, to being able to do the beginning stages of algebra.”

Gallardo said his Peña Center students needed a little extra “push,” but as they progressed in the class, he saw a big difference in them.

“They had more confidence in themselves. You could see that they were more interested in learning and moving forward,” he said.

Eight of the 12 who started the class received certification that they had completed the course successfully.

Nelson said it is amazing what the partnership of the Peña Center, the county Health Department and the School of Medicine has been able to organize and put into action, with the help of grant funding from Methodist Healthcare Ministries, and through interprofessional team care.

“Beside their growing interest in learning, the students developed a group identity that may be missing in many of their lives,” Nelson said. “We are touched with each adolescent and their story. The transformation was really unique and inspiring to all of us at the clinic.”

This fall, the Peña Center is offering GED classes again through a partnership with the Region One Education Service Center.

For more information about the classes or the Peña Center, call (956) 318-2915.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
956-665-2742

Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations
956-882-5105