Alpha Family Center Celebrates Graduates of GED/Diploma Program

Sparta Adult Education teacher Tom Bratt (l) and Alpha Family Center executive director Christa Wetzel (r) with graduates Ken Olson and Lon Tower III

Alpha Family Center is probably best known for doling out diapers and baby supplies to area families, but the non-profit expanded its services last year to include GED and English as a Second Language classes. Last week, the organization held an open house and ceremony to honor the latest round of graduates from the GED program.

Four students completed the GED/diploma program, and they included single young adults, a father of five and a retiree. “All of our students have a unique and different story,” says Tom Bratt, a teacher with Sparta Adult Education who leads the program at Alpha Family Center. While their story is unique, each participant has a common goal of picking up their education where they left off.

Veteran Finally Receives High School Diploma

At age 85, Ken Olson was the senior member of the graduating class. He also wasn’t after a GED but hoping to receive the high school diploma he’d missed out on in 1952.

It was then that Olson went overseas with the U.S. Army. He was told he could receive his diploma when he returned home. However, when he tried to do so, the school district said he was one credit short. Olson went on to have a 44-year career but often thought about his missing diploma. When his wife found out about the adult education program offered through Alpha Family Center, she asked if they could help.

“It was fun for me,” Bratt says. The teacher did some digging to uncover old education and military records. Then, he got in touch with Lee High School, where Olson had attended until his junior year. While there was originally some question of whether the retiree would need to complete the last remaining credit, a special program for veterans let him bypass that requirement since he had previously obtained a GED.

On Veteran’s Day, the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Board of Education awarded Olson with his diploma and a standing ovation. Issued for the year 1952, it represents the end of a 66-year wait and was made possible, in part, by the tenacious work of Bratt.

GED Brings New Career Possibilities for Graduate

On the other end of the age spectrum is Lon Tower III. Just shy of his 21st birthday, Tower has earned his GED thanks to the partnership between Alpha Family Center and Sparta Adult Education and is looking forward to the next chapter of his life.

“What I want to do is get to college for business management or a culinary program,” Tower says. However, prior to receiving his GED, that didn’t seem possible.

Tower was a student at Unity Alternative High School but didn’t make it to graduation. Since then, he has been working at a local pizza restaurant and moving up in the ranks there. While he often thought of going back to school to complete his education, he wasn’t sure how to go about that. “I had no idea how I was going to pay for it,” he explains.

Fortunately, the program through Sparta Adult Education is free and with classes at Alpha Family Center, it was convenient too. Tower inquired about the program in August and took about three months to study and pass the four test segments needed to earn a GED. As a graduate of the program, Tower is eligible to receive future career counseling and guidance in pursuing a post-secondary education. If all goes well, he’d like to maybe one day open his own restaurant.

“Don’t second guess yourself,” Tower says is his advice to others who may be thinking about earning a GED. “Go for it.”

Adult Education Program Open to All

Sparta Adult Education offers free classes at nine different county locations, including in Lowell. Christa Wetzel, executive director of Alpha Family Center, says hosting the GED/ESL program fits perfectly with the non-profit’s mission of helping local families.

While anyone can study for the GED on their own, the process can be intimidating. After all, the GED study guide sold in bookstores is more than 700 pages long. Bratt says the benefit of working through an adult education program is having a teacher who can help with instruction as well as narrow down which areas a person should focus their studies.

“In adult ed, we meet each student where they are at,” Bratt explains.

If you or someone you know didn’t earn a high school diploma, public GED sessions are held from 8-10am on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Alpha Family Center of Lowell. An additional class is offered on Wednesdays for clients of the center. For more information or to register, visit the Sparta Adult Education website.

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