Workforce Boulder County builds stronger communities with GED program

Graduates: Opal Milota, valedictorian (High Honors – Reasoning Through Language Arts; High Honors – Social Studies; Honors – Science); Rina Rehbehn, salutatorian (Honors – Reasoning Through Language Arts; Honors – Social Studies; Honors – Science); Eli Ball (Honors – Science); Aiyanna Schmidt (Honors – Social Studies); Macey Farrell (Honors – Social Studies); Trevor Falkinburg (Honors – Science); David Aparicio (Honors – Science); Rodney Valdez (Honors – Reasoning Through Language Arts); Rhianna Miller (Honors – Reasoning Through Language Arts; Honors – Social Studies); David De La Torre; Holly White; Jessica Kriete; Shaylah Hately; Natalia Gonzalesz-Mendes; Luis Jarquin; Jackson Brown

Just six years ago Jessica Kriete, now 31 years old, was a homeless high school dropout living Savannah, Ga., struggling with heroin addiction and an abusive relationship. Unable to see two of her three children, she thought her poor choices as a teenager had ruined her life.

However, when her now ex-husband was imprisoned for a previous sexual offense, she seized the opportunity to change her life and moved to Longmont with her new boyfriend.

“That was my moment,” she said. “I found my center and decided that I was going to empower myself.”

The first step was getting clean, regaining custody of her children and finding a job, which she did, working an internship as an administrative technician in the Boulder County Clerks and Records Division. But, without a high school diploma, the opportunity to convert that internship into full-time employment was out of her reach.

That‘s when she enrolled in Workforce Boulder County‘s GED program, from which she graduatedSaturday.

Working with Tonja Yelton, the adult education specialist heading up the GED program, Kriete said she was able to regain her self-confidence and take the next step in rebuilding her life.

“Tonja helped me feel very confident, letting me know how intelligent I actually am,” she said. “That confidence inspired me to come in early when I wasn‘t supposed to and start studying. It made me feel good.”

‘Such a huge accomplishment‘

Working a full-time internship and caring for three kids, Kriete was able to access the GED Lab in the Boulder County St. Vrain Community Hub any time she needed, thanks to Yelton‘s support. She even provided Kriete with several different types of study materials to match her learning style.

“Our program has been identified by researchers at the University of Southern Georgia as the only program of its kind in the U.S.,” Yeldon said.

“Everything we do is relationship focused and strength based. We personalize every student‘s journey from start to finish. We just don‘t start for the beginning of the book.”

For all of those enrolled in the GED program, the feeling of acceptance they develop is absolutely critical to their success.

“The GED instructors are amazing,” Kriete said. “They don‘t discriminate against anybody and they‘ll bend over backward for you if you really want it. I don‘t think I could have gotten my GED without them.”

That one-on-one attention has given hundreds of students a new lease on life since the program was expanded in 2008.

From July 2017 until December 2018, 119 people enrolled in Workforce Boulder County‘s GED program. During that time, 32 students successfully completed exams in all four subjects areas (math, social studies, science and language arts) and 59 students completed a test in at least one subject. Twenty-five earned honors or high honors.

For Kriete, as with many of the other graduates, completing the GED program is proof of her self worth.

“Just thinking about it makes me want to cry,” she said, audibly holding back tears. “This is such a huge accomplishment for me and for my kids, especially for my daughter who‘s 10 years old. It opens up so many different doors for me as far as employment. And I recently filled out an application to start a summer semester at Front Range Community College.”

“This is the most positive change I‘ve ever had in my life,” she continued. “I have all three of my children living with me now, my parents moved out from Georgia last summer so I have all of my family support, all of my kids and life is good.”

‘Sense of accomplishment‘

During Saturday‘s graduation, 13 students were scheduled to graduate from Workforce Boulder County‘s GED program, all of whom have similarly inspiring stories.

Sabrina Wood, 37, who graduated as the program‘s valedictorian four years ago, will serve as the keynote speaker.

She dropped out of high school when she became pregnant as a 15-year-old. Though she already had at a job working at a warehouse in Longmont when she enrolled in the GED program, she couldn‘t move up in the company without a diploma. She reached out to Boulder County Workforce for help.

Since graduating from the GED program, she was promoted to a supervisor position within the warehouse and is currently studying for her managing human resources certificate at Colorado State University-Global Campus. Once she receives her certificate, she plans to get a bachelors degree in organizational leadership.

“For me, the GED gave me a sense of accomplishment, a sense that I‘m not a nobody,” she said. “I had my eldest daughter when I was 16 and dropped out of high school but I didn‘t want to become just another statistic.”

Though the GED program began as a resource for adults receiving federal assistance from programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in 2017 Yelton initiated a prevention model program that partnered with Boulder County Housing and Human Services as well as the St. Vrain Valley and Boulder Valley School Districts to open their services up to a broader spectrum of the public.

“I have a kiddo that‘s just now graduating and watched he and his peers go through the system and realized there was a big need for catching kids right at the moment of disengagement,” Yelton said.

“So, rather than waiting for them to drop out and struggle with food scarcity, requiring them to get food stamps, or having families and then struggling with housing or financial assistance, I figured if we could catch them at the beginning and provide alternative educational support or employment help through the other services Workforce Boulder County offers, we could create stronger communities.”

Those who have gone through the program couldn‘t agree more.

“Tonja and I are still going over my graduation speech,” Wood said. “But I want to remind the graduates to look at where they are now. Look at what the GED program has given them.

“Now, doors are going to open up for them.”

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