NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

August 10, 2008

DROPPING IN, NOT OUT

By katie curley

Jennifer Drew envisions a life of travel well documented through her photography. Kristina Andriotakis wants to dive to the deepest depths of the ocean as a marine archeologist.

Yet neither ever formally graduated from high school. Instead they received their General Education Development certificate.

The young women are just two of the hundreds of graduates of the GED program through the Haverhill Partners for Literacy and the Amesbury Literacy and Learning Partnership. Last week, 256 people received their GEDs at Northern Essex Community College.

The number of people getting a GED certificate is on the rise, program officials say, and they're taking their certificate further than ever before.

Alexandra Curtis of Amesbury, who received her certificate last year, has completed her first year of college already and is only 18. She will transfer to the University of New Hampshire after this year.

"Anecdotally we have seen an increase in GED test takers," said Cynthia Therrien, chief examiner of the GED in the local programs. "The GED is the only universally recognized certificate considered an equivalent of a high school diploma; it's another route to get a diploma."

The alternate route is one that Therrien said she sees many students of different ages and backgrounds — from adults looking to finally get a diploma to homeschooled teens ready for the next step — taking as a way to compete in a tough economic world.

"They leave high school for a variety of reasons," Therrien said, noting she does not advise students to drop out. "Sometimes they are not feeling challenged enough and are ready for college or have been laid off, and in order to have comparable employment, there is pressure to get their GEDs or diplomas."

Drew was homeschooled since fifth grade by her mother after having problems keeping up in school due to her dyslexia. After a year and a half of course work, Drew said her experience was a good one.

"The classes are small, so it is more attention," Drew said. "It's up to you to get your work done, so I felt like I saw an adult world, especially as there were people in their 30s and 40s in class with us."

Andriotakis is only 16 but already has her GED and will continue classes this fall. Homeschooled all of her life, she found the program perfect for her as she was used to getting her work done in a nontraditional setting.

"I was homeschooled since kindergarten, and going to a public high school didn't ring true for me," Andriotakis said. "I grew up around adults being schooled."

While the average testing age of students in the GED program is around 22 years old, Therrien said she sees people both younger and older.

"There is a 97 percent acceptance rate to colleges and businesses from GED students," Therrien said. "Ivy league schools accept GEDs."

At last night's graduation, Drew, 18, of Penniman Drive in Salisbury, and Andriotakis, of Railroad Avenue in Salisbury, read essays about their experiences in the program to the class.

Curtis will tell of her transition into NECC after receiving her GED last year.

"NECC is a great place to start," Curtis said. "I plan to go to UNH and study business."

For Andriotakis, the GED program took a mere six months to complete.

"The program had such a positive impact on my life," Andriotakis said. "In six months, it has given me the confidence I need to do anything, really."

Andriotakis will begin classes at Northern Essex in September with plans to transfer to Bridgewater State after two years.

"I've grown up a lot in six months," she said. "I don't feel like having a GED will put me at a disadvantage."

Drew echoes Andriotakis' sentiments and will also begin classes at Northern Essex in the fall but will first start in the "college transition program," which will make the change from GED program to college easier for her.

"I'm nervous, but I know that I'm ready," Drew said.