The women sometimes come in withdrawn, reticent and quiet. But by the end of their time taking GED courses at Women in Recovery, many are espousing the positive effects of the classes and sharing stories of perseverance through obstacles.
The GED program has been around for nine years, according to Dianne Hughes, program director of Self-Sufficiency at Women in Recovery, an intensive outpatient alternative to incarceration for eligible women facing long-term prison sentences for non-violent drug-related offenses. And it’s all thanks to the work of five volunteers who tutor the women in their respective subjects, guiding them as they work to learn the material in preparation for the big exam.
“They are a dream team,” Hughes said of the volunteers. “It is this amazing group of people who didn’t know each other at first and now they have bonded with the mission of getting these women educated and getting their GED. We love them.”
George Schnetzer teaches math to the women along with his wife, Mary Lhevine. He started after seeing how much Lhevine enjoyed teaching and has been volunteering for about two and a half years. “Prior to this I had tutored individual high school students in algebra, geometry and pre-calculus for many years,” he said.
The couple have experimented with different forms of teaching. They initially taught together, giving instruction in the same classroom but have recently moved to splitting the class up between basic concepts and more advanced concepts such as linear and quadratic equations and plane and solid geometry.
“The rewards of this include ‘seeing the light go on’ in the eyes of a student who may have thought she’d never learn this stuff, watching someone evolve from being detached and disinterested to an attentive and responsive student, observing the improvement in student focus and concentration and, of course, seeing students successfully pass exams and get their GED certificate,” he said.
Finding ways to reach students and work around the women’s many commitments, which include court appearances, therapy and parenting classes, are some of the challenges the teachers face, Schnetzer said.
Lucy Piper, who teaches language arts, echoed the sentiment.
“These women have so much on their plates with counseling, overcoming addiction, following strict rules, appearing in court, and so on,” she said. “Sometimes learning about semi-colons and reading articles on preserving the prairies seems pretty irrelevant. However, I am impressed again and again at how they hang in there—coming at 8:30 in the morning, tackling the work, trying the test.”
Hughes said it can take anywhere from two months to two years for the women to complete the learning required to take the GED test. After completing their education with the tutors, who also include Mike Gassett and Jodi Tuttle, and earning their GED, the women can continue to take classes at Tulsa Community College, Hughes said.
“It’s a no brainer. The more education, the better opportunities and the farther away from their addiction they can get with new, positive opportunities,” Hughes said.