Teresa Gandara, 38, works in a restaurant as a cook, but she hopes to one day become a real estate agent or an accountant.
To achieve those goals, she’s taking GED courses offered by Hispanic Alliance GA. The classes are available in Spanish for Hispanic community members across Georgia since COVID-19 forced the local in-person classes to go online.
“I enrolled in this program for the chance of a better future and a better job,” Gandara said in Spanish. She has been a student for several months and is enrolled in her third subject area.
Although the classes are not state-approved, DACA recipients and others are able to enroll to get the education that may help them pass the Georgia GED test, which does not have a residency requirement.
DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and stands to protect those who immigrated to the U.S. as children. DACA grants undocumented immigrants protection from deportation and gives a work permit.
“It’s actually a blessing for our Latino community to have a program that accepts students, no matter what their legal status is,” said Vanesa Sarazua, founder and executive director of the Hispanic Alliance GA.
G. Mondragón, 28, works for a construction company. He is waiting to be approved for DACA after immigrating about 15 years ago. The Times is not using his first name due to his immigration status.
“I attended GED courses in English but they were becoming too difficult, and I stopped taking them,” he said in Spanish. “Now, I’m trying again. I’m in school to get my GED because I have a lot of plans for my future. I want a better job. I want to get an education.”
This is his first month as a student in the program. He hopes to work in sales, such as at a car dealership.
Both he and Gandara said they struggled some with the technology required for the courses.
Sarazua said the program’s accessibility and flexibility sets this program apart from others offered in the state. It includes the following benefits:
- Students in these courses can complete their GED exam in Spanish.
- Courses are recorded so students who miss class can continue learning.
- A valid ID must be provided, but it doesn’t have to be state-issued.
- Students can join the online course through their mobile devices. The Alliance also allows students to borrow a laptop if needed.
The Hispanic Alliance GA began offering this program in March 2019 to open up more job opportunities and a greater salary to adults. The program has had students from ages 18 to nearly 60 years old.
“The majority, 60%, of our adults locally do not have a GED or a high school diploma,” Sarazua said of the population her organization serves. “So we want to have them be able to have that opportunity to study something else if they want or improve in their work, options and opportunities.”
Teachers for this program include Claudia Garcia, who teaches second grade at World Language Academy in Flowery Branch, and Omar Salinas, who is a Spanish professor at the University of North Georgia.
Garcia was the first teacher introduced to the program and has been teaching with the Alliance since the program began. Garcia said the main difficulty she has faced with students regards their prior level of knowledge.
“They have cultural barriers, and sometimes that is stopping them from trying to get their GED,” Garcia said.
Garcia offers her students more than instruction. She supports her students by holding one-on-one meetings, keeping them engaged, motivated and focused.
“At the beginning, you start explaining to them ‘OK, I am here to support you and to help you reach your goal because you are here because you want to be here and I am going to support you in all the process,’” Garcia said.
Garcia said by taking GED courses, students will not only learn academic material but also begin to understand how American society functions.
“When they start in the program, they start learning the laws of here and how the United States works socially, politically and economically. They start changing their point of view and they understand that this is a different country,” Garcia said.
Gandara encourages other adults to enroll and to not be fearful about their academic journey.
The Hispanic Alliance GA has partnered with other local organizations in order to get more students enrolled. They recently received a $5,000 grant from Jackson EMC for their literacy classes, which include ESL and GED classes.
“Our hope is to have these (classes) be fully supported in the future as they are tuition-based, and we accept any student adult who wishes to continue studying, regardless of status,” Sarazua said.
These funds will be used to support digital access for both programs this year, including online access to books, tests and homework.
Sarazua reported that the student body doubled this month and they expect upward of 45 students to enroll in February.
Online classes are offered on a rolling basis in order to cover all four subject areas covered in the Georgia GED test. Classes are set to begin Feb. 2 with six hours of coursework weekly and will be held 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Courses are offered for a tuition of $150 per month, which includes the cost of the online courses, textbooks and digital homework.
Pre-GED and GED courses are offered depending on students’ education levels. Prospective students are tested for placement in order to be placed in a Pre-GED or GED track. Pre-GED courses are geared toward students who need more education, while the GED courses prepare students to test for a particular subject area within a month.
“Our classes are geared towards utilizing the education that our students have already acquired from their home countries,” Sarazua said.
The four subject areas include language arts, social studies, science and math. Students currently enrolled are studying language arts, and the next subject to be covered is social studies. Interviews with Gandara and Mondragón were conducted in Spanish and translated into English.