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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Adults can take GED prep classes at Spokane’s Regal Elementary

Alex Wells, 28,  pores over an algebra exam Friday as part of his GED program at Regal Elementary School while his son Nemiah, 2, watches a Spider-Man video. Nemiah came  with his father because of child care issues. Wells’ other son, Alex Jr., is a first-grader at Regal. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

For the last five months, Regal Elementary parents have been able to study for their GED certificate at the school their children attend.

The program, a collaboration between Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane Public Schools, is designed to help parents earn their GED certificate while also serving as role models for their children.

“Although we’re really close (to the college) … it’s a long mile,” said Principal Tricia Kannberg. “When you impact a parent in such a positive way, it impacts kids.”

On a Thursday morning, Kannberg dropped in on the GED class. One parent, whose son attends the northeast Spokane elementary school, pulled Kannberg aside. Her son has not been listening to her, the woman said.

“Come to my office and we can talk,” Kannberg told the woman.

It’s this sort of interaction officials in the school district and at the college hope to foster. But part of the program’s appeal – its flexibility – can also be a challenge. Although eight students are enrolled in the program, on any given day only one or two may show up.

Dawn Chavez, the program manager for the Community Colleges of Spokane Adult Education Program, helps students learn the necessary life skills to be successful in school – whether that means buying an alarm clock or going to bed at the appropriate time. Many of the GED students have varied, and often complicated, life situations, she said.

“It’s really hard for them to put this first in their lives right now,” she said.

Alex Wells is one of the program’s most dedicated students, according to staff. However, on Wednesday, his child care arrangement for his 2-year-old son fell apart and he was not able to come to class. He also missed Thursday, then on Friday he asked Kannberg if his son, Nemiah, could come with him to the school.

Although Kannberg said she normally wouldn’t allow a toddler into the school, Wells said it would be temporary and would help prevent him falling behind.

“I didn’t want to miss too much because I didn’t want to forget everything I learned,” Wells said.

So, Friday morning, Wells, Nemiah and Alex Jr., who is in first grade at Regal, walked to school together.

“He was excited,” Wells said of Alex Jr. “He thinks it’s cool that I get to go to school with him.”

Wells, 28, dropped out of high school in the 10th grade when his first child was born. He said it’s been hard getting back into the school mindset, but the staff at the program make it easier. He hopes to finish his GED test this month.

“It’s probably the best thing the school has put on,” he said of the program.

The program is new and it is vital that it grow slowly and build community trust, said Raju Hegde, the adult education program director for Community Colleges of Spokane.

“What it needs to be is stable; big can come later,” he said. “The educational level in the Hillyard and Logan neighborhoods is substantially lower than the rest of the state and the city.”

Hegde said the need for the program grew after the Community Colleges of Spokane’s Hillyard Center closed in June 2014.

“We really left kind of a hole in that area when we left,” he said.

So when Kannberg reached out to him, he was happy to develop the project. The community colleges pay for the instructor, while the school district provides the space. Currently 20 hours of GED instruction is provided at Regal Elementary each week, Hegde said.

Anyone studying for their GED test at the elementary school must go through a background check. They’re buzzed in and out of the school by the front-office staff. The program costs $25 a quarter, and the GED test costs $120.

Hegde said the GED program at Regal would grow if northeast Spokane gets a Housing and Urban Development Promise Zone designation that the city applied for last week.

Community Colleges of Spokane offers GED programs throughout Spokane, plus in Newport, Pullman and Republic. In addition, Hegde said, the colleges provide GED services at Geiger Corrections Center.

“They come in very leery of teachers,” said Susan Wilson, the adult education instructor at Regal. “They don’t really like teachers. You have to build rapport.”