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Lifelong learners

ATEC program helps adults reach education, career goals

Posted: March 10, 2011 2:50 p.m.
Updated: March 11, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Robert Sumpter

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Robert Sumpter wanted a college degree and a career.

Henrietta Brown knew that it was finally time to get her GED (General Educational Development test certification) -- a move that also inspired her husband to want to hone his reading and math skills.

And Tommy Stephens wants to read a story to his children and write a love letter to his girlfriend.

Their goals may differ, but Sumpter, the Browns and Stephens have one thing in common: the desire to further their education.

Enter the Kershaw County School District’s (KCSD) adult education program.

“Our goal is to help adults, no matter what their purpose is,” said Dr. Carolyn Ham, KCSD’s director for adult education and parenting. “Our program has a very caring team; we have really caring teachers who want to be here. We try to create a welcoming environment for adults.”

When she was hired to work with the adult education program more than 30 years ago, Ham said, it only consisted of a night class that was held in the Applied Technology Education Campus’ (ATEC) library.

But through the guidance of then-ATEC director Dr. Gil Woolard, Ham said she watched the program grow to help an annual average of 700 to 900 adult students achieve their educational goals. 

Not that any of Ham’s, or any member of the adult education staff’s, hard work has gone unnoticed.

After quitting his job at a local plant last year, Sumpter went to the adult education program, was placed on the GED fast track program, and took his GED exam after only eight weeks of classes. 

“The first thing (Dr. Ham) said to me was ‘I’ll give you a chance and see what you’re about … and if you put your best foot forward, we’ll work with you,’” he said, adding that Ham was instrumental in helping him take the GED test in time to enroll in college classes in March. “There are people who don’t just do their job for a paycheck; they care about what they do. She didn’t have to do everything she did for me.”

Now, Sumpter has enrolled in instructional art classes at Central Carolina Technical College and already has plans to transfer to the University of South Carolina in the future.

And while Ham said many young adults come back with aspirations of eventually receiving a college degree, she’s also seen other county residents hit hard by the economic recession return for their GED or to improve their academic skills.

Such was the case for Henrietta Brown, who was only two points away from passing her GED test in 1998.

At the time, instead of retaking the test, Brown said she opted to accept a secure job that she was sure she would be able to retire from.

“But then I got laid off. And looking for a job on the computer, I’ve found that every place wanted a GED. You can’t get a job now without a GED (or high school diploma) … and that’s why I’m here,” she said, adding that her lengthy list of job skills alone were not enough to land her a job.

Tony Brown said his wife’s taking GED classes was all the motivation he needed to further his own education as well.

“Well, I have my diploma, but I just came back to brush up on my reading skills. And since I have to bring her here anyway, I figured I might as well take some classes, too,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t want to fall behind. ATEC has helped me catch up to where I need to be right now and get a lot of those skills back.”

And acquiring skills is also the reason Stephens said he enrolled in literacy classes several weeks ago.

After years of contemplating whether or not he wanted to return to the classroom, Stephens said taking care of his wife before she passed away made him realize that he wanted to do more than just work with his hands as a carpenter.

One day, he said, he would like to use his education to become a nurse and take care of others in the same way that nurses took care of his wife before she passed away.

“It just got to the point where I was tired of wondering about it; it was time to make an effort. It’s hard, but there’s going to be a day when I’ll be able to read a book to my kids, even though they may be grown,” Stephens said, smiling faintly. “There’s a lot of people out there like me. But one day, I’d like to take out some time to teach someone else how to read.”

Stephens is quick to acknowledge that he does get discouraged sometimes, but the encouragement of the staff at the adult education program and the support he receives from his girlfriend and children is enough to keep him going.

“It’s hard, and I know it’s going to take a lot of work. The reality of it is hard to deal with -- it’s going to take some time,” Stephens said. “I want to be able to take a negative and turn it into something positive. It’s time to take the first step to getting my education. And then, I don’t know, maybe I can be an inspiration to someone else.”



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