Tamara De Leon works on a social studies assignment during a GED tutoring class at Ibero Family Center June 12. Tamara De Leon works on a social studies assignment during a GED tutoring class at Ibero Family Center June 12.

Bilingual program helps Latinos earn GEDs

ROCHESTER — Melissa Baez hopes to become a nurse.

That is one of the reasons, Baez said, that she decided to enroll in bilingual tutoring classes being offered at Ibero Family Center on Clifford Avenue to help participants earn their general equivalency diplomas. The classes are taught by members of United Christian Community Program, which is part of Faithful Remnant Christian Church in Rochester.

Baez’s two children are another factor for her wanting to earn her GED and start a career, she said.

"I want a better future for my children," Baez said.

Her friend, Kasandra Toledo, shares that motivation. Both women are natives of Puerto Rico.

"I want to improve my child’s future and show those who don’t think well of me that I can succeed," Toledo noted.

Both women participated in a June 12 session that focused on American history, environmental science and math taught by Angel Lebrón, who oversees and helps teach the classes on a volunteer basis. He and other church members also teach the classes at Martin Luther King Jr. School No. 9 and the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center, Lebrón explained.

But the classes are not just about helping participants pass the GED exam, he said.

"We do wraparound services," he said. "We look to be able to give them some preparation for jobs and counseling … as well as referrals to other agencies. We keep looking for opportunities to make a better life for them, whether they complete the GED or not, and be able to assist them."

The desire to provide such wraparound services is why Lebrón was invited to teach the classes at Ibero’s Family Center, said Carmen Vega, the agency’s coordinator of emergency services. At the Ibero site, the program is able to connect families with emergency services offered at that location.

"It (tutoring) is a large need because there aren’t too many places … that offer GED classes in Spanish," Vega said. "I saw this as an opportunity to give something back to our community, something great."

Since the fall of 2012, Ibero has donated a room and other clerical services to the program, said Vega. The agency also helps participants with meeting their food needs and filling out paperwork.

"We believe in taking care of our clients’ needs holistically," Vega noted. "We try to accommodate and help with whatever needs we’re able to. … We do the best we can with what we have and the knowledge we have."

Helping Latinos obtain GEDs, though, has become more difficult because of Common Core standards, Lebrón said. Students now have to achieve a higher tally of points on practice tests before they can even sit down for the GED test, he explained.

Since starting the program four years ago, about 400 local residents have taken the GED classes, he said, and about 25 have passed the exam. Students must be 18 years or older to enroll in the program, but he does accept younger students who have dropped out at 16 or 17, depending on their situations, Lebrón added.

Some of the students leave the program but do go on to get their diplomas through a class elsewhere, Lebrón noted. Others find jobs or new careers or move out of the area, he added.

"Even if they haven’t succeeded in getting the GED (here), they succeed in moving forward," he said.

Toledo, who hopes to become a police officer, said that the program has already helped her improve her English skills.

"It’s a great program. It has helped me a lot," she said.

While Alexander Torres speaks both English and Spanish, he is more comfortable speaking in English. He said that he signed up for the GED preparation program upon a recommendation from his cousin.

Torres dropped out in his senior year at East High School after transferring back from Greece-Olympia High School, where he had completed his junior year. He would like to get his barber licence and dreams of owning and operating his own barber shop, he said.

"I’m too close to finishing (my GED)," said the 20-year-old Torres, who works nights at Rochester General Hospital. "I want to at least get that (diploma) out of the way."

In addition to obtaining diplomas, the program also can offer benefits to participants who are parents, noted Maria Otero-Rivera, School No. 9’s parent liaison.

"The program helps families obtain better job opportunities and opens the door for those who want to continue their education at a college," she remarked. "Additionally … (the program) gives them the opportunity to be good examples to their children that it’s never too late to achieve your dreams."

Keeping the GED program operational so those dreams can be achieved continues to be a struggle, noted Lebrón, as the church tries to raise money to purchase computers to help students, who will soon be forced to take the test on a computer. The church also would like to become a testing site, he said.

Vega also would like to see the program expand and be offered at more sites to reach more Latinos, she said.

"We obviously have the passion (to offer the program)," said Lebrón, who also works as a residence counselor for Unity Health System. "(But) we don’t have everything we’d like to have."

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Editor’s Note: For more information about the bilingual GED tutoring program, call 585-210-8227 or e-mail UCCP.RF@gmail.com. To reach the Ibero Family Center, call 585-454-1430.

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