Two days a week, my mother, Angela, takes a Sun Tran bus all the way from our house to the Roy Laos Transit Center. She passes the Department of Economic Security office on her right, walks a few more yards past the El Pueblo Branch Library, and turns into a complex of gray buildings decorated with colorful murals.
This is the El Pueblo Liberty Learning Center, where she has taken general equivalency diploma (GED) classes for the past 18 months. My mom and I share a dream that involves her getting her GED and getting a job as an OB/GYN nurse at a hospital. Sadly, our dreams may be harder to achieve than ever before.
The Arizona Legislature recently adopted a budget that does not include adult education as a line item. In the past few weeks, though, there have been changes to the initial budget. According to a memo from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne's office, sent by Karen Liersh, the deputy associate superintendent of Adult Education Services, some of Arizona's community colleges have given money to the GED program to keep it alive; our own Pima Community College is one of the colleges to do so, giving $400,000. As a result of this money and other funding sources, the program should stay alive through June 2011.
If, for whatever reason, you were not able to graduate high school, a GED can help you continue your education. Take my mama, for example: She lived the first 18 years of her life in Mexico, where high school was something you had to pay for. After passing her GED test this June, she can take nursing classes at Pima.
Having the GED program for one extra year is good news. But one year is not good enough; we need a permanent GED program. One way we might come up with the funding is to pay more in taxes. Even though I'm only 15, I know that when I grow up and begin my career here, I want to know I'm joining an educated workforce.
Over the past few months, adult-education activists have been organizing across the state. Betty Stauffer, the executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Tucson, is in the middle of this effort. Literacy Volunteers, which provides tutors to adults who are learning English or hoping to increase their literacy skills, knows how important GED classes are for the students they serve.
"We know that when a parent is well-educated or is working on their education, 100 percent of the time, their child's performance in school improves," Stauffer says. "It is a cyclical effect."
According to Pima Community College spokeswoman Rachelle Howell, PCC Adult Education awarded 1,787 GEDs in 2008-2009 and served 7,846 students in its adult-education programs. Eighty percent of these students are younger than 45.
After her GED class, my mom comes home and cleans until I get home. Our house is small, but good enough for the two of us. When I walk in, she asks me how my day went, and I ask her the same. We sit down at the round kitchen table and do our homework together; this is our bonding time, when we talk and help each other out. Most of the time, my mama only has math homework. When she asks for help, and I don't know the answer, we always look it up in one of our math books in our small home library. We eat dinner—always before 8—and go to bed early, because we want to be ready for the next day.
My mom has worked her whole life; she has five children and 14 grandchildren, and has worked in every type of job you can imagine. It wasn't until most of her kids were grown and out of the house that she realized she needed more education. My mom always tells me that parents have to show their children that education is a serious matter.
I am grateful that organizations including PCC have swooped in to save the GED program for one more year—but it is only a quick fix for a bad decision. The absence of the GED program would put a huge hole in our economy, and it would harm efforts to create more jobs.
Cleopatra Caperón Mendoza, 15, is a freshman at Sunnyside High School and a youth apprentice journalist at VOICES: Community Stories Past and Present Inc. For more information, visit www.voicesinc.org.