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Lanier Tech reaches out to adult students
School shows off programs available to those pursuing their GED diploma
Lanier Technical College cosmetology student Nicole Allain applies highlights to a mannequin head Monday while adult literacy students tour the college during a recruitment event. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Juan Escamilla stopped going to school 22 years ago.

The 39-year-old immigrant and father of five thought the sun had set on his time in the classroom. Then the truck driver was laid off, and after being unemployed for four months, the Department of Labor encouraged him to enroll in Lanier Technical College’s Adult Learning Center.

There he could improve his English and earn a General Education Development diploma to make him a more marketable job candidate. On Monday, he toured a college campus — a place he never expected to find himself.

With a good grasp of the English language and his GED certification on track for December, Escamilla toured Lanier Tech in the Adult Education Center’s first college shadow day. Escamilla and more than 20 other adult education students who are learning English and earning their GED diploma toured Lanier Tech’s programs to get a glimpse at the classes that could provide them with a better future.

"The teachers encouraged me to get my GED and maybe I could come to college," he said. "I have a family and thought it was impossible for me to go back to school. It’s the work of the teachers that really inspired me."

Shannon Obermeier, dual enrollment specialist for Lanier Tech, said she normally hosts the college shadow day for high school students, but Monday marked the first time she coordinated the tour for adults. She said the tour aims to expose GED students to Lanier Tech classes they could take while studying for their GED test.

In as little as one semester, a student can earn a certificate in a trade that can help them land a job in nursing, technology or merchandising, she said. The GED students also can apply the certificate toward a diploma or two-year degree.

"There are so many students that a technical education is the right thing for them because it’s hands on, it can be relatively quick and they’re learning a skill," Obermeier said. "... When they find out they can do that while earning their GED, it motivates them to finish their GED."

Lanier Tech College President Mike Moye said adults like Escamilla are the kind of serious students the college seeks even in a time when the school has 32 percent more students than last year.

"The adults that we are talking to, we know that they realize that what they’re about to embark on is pretty much their last chance. They have to make it count," he said. "... This advanced training in an occupational area is their ticket to a better livelihood for them and for their family."

Dalia Pacheco, 20, is expecting her third child in February. The former Gainesville High School student said though she once struggled with school, she’s ready to earn her GED diploma, attend college and make a better life for herself, her two sons and expected daughter.

"I can’t tell (my son) to go to school and finish school until I do it. I need to set an example for him," she said. "If I want him to go to college and have a good future, then I need to do it, too."

Pacheco said after her daughter is born, she hopes to enroll in a Lanier Tech nursing or cosmetology class.

Moye said he encourages adults considering technical education to jump back into the classroom.

"There’s a reason why they didn’t go on to a postsecondary environment when they got out of high school 20 years ago. ... They’re typically a little afraid of the classroom," he said. "It takes a day or two for them to get in and get their feet wet and understand they are in a very caring and nurturing environment, and they’re with instructors who truly want to see them succeed no matter what their age is."