ALAMOSA — TSJC’s adult education program will not look the same after this weekend when 17 students will graduate with their General Education Development (GED) diplomas in the final commencement under long-time Director Anna Mae Rael-Lindsay.
Rael-Lindsay, whose position ends on June 30, is concerned that the dozens of students still in the process of earning their GED’s will not be able to complete them in the San Luis Valley after that time.
The Colorado Department of Education did not renew funding for Trinidad State Junior College’s GED program this year, and TSJC did not appeal that decision, as it had three years ago when a similar situation occurred.
TSJC President Dr. Carmen Simone said on Tuesday that she respected the state department’s decision not to renew the grant and did not believe the college had a legitimate argument for appeal. However, she added that she hoped TSJC could receive the grant during the next round in three years and in the meantime would continue offering services for students wishing to earn their GED’s.
“Students will be able to come into the college, come into our learning center, and we will have resources there for them,” Simone said.
She said she hoped that current instructors Gary Petty and Mary Richards would remain with TSJC and continue to serve adult education students, and program assistant Melissa Montoya could retain employment with TSJC as well if she desired.
Simone added that she appreciated the dedicated and passionate service of Rael-Lindsay.
“I am proud of Anna Mae and all the work she’s done,” Simone said.
Rael-Lindsay said the staff who have been working in TSJC’s GED program have been “a heck of a team.” Petty, a retired Alamosa school teacher, has assisted students with math skills and Richards, coming on staff a little over a year ago from the public school system, has assisted students in the language arts.
The staff said they loved their work in the TSJC GED program. Montoya said she had not even minded the commute from her home in Del Norte to come to work because she felt like she was helping to make a difference in people’s lives.
She pointed out that many of the GED graduates continue in other TSJC educational programs.
“It’s the reward you see when you see the light that comes on,” Rael-Lindsay said.
She added that the program financially assisted the college as well. She had to turn in the number of “imputed FTEs” (full time equivalents) each semester, which she believed amounted to about $6,000 funding per FTE.
“That’s quite a bit when we can bring in 15-20 imputed FTEs per year,” she said. “It’s not like we are a costly program. We are making money.”
Rael-Lindsay, an Alamosa original, started out her career teaching third and fourth grades and has served in one form of education or advocacy ever since.
“I have always been in the helping business,” she said.
Turning 65 in March, she said she feels she is being pushed into retirement, but she is not ready to retire yet. She said she received a letter from the college telling her that due to the lack of grant funding, her last day would be June 30.
She said although she might enjoy gardening this summer, “You have to have a purpose. I think I still have a purpose, and gardening is just not enough.”
Rael-Lindsay said she had plans to expand the GED program with satellite classrooms in Antonito, Del Norte and San Luis and had been working with various organizations such as the Department of Corrections, Department of Human Services, Blue Peaks and vocational rehab to set up sites for classes.
“I had their support to do this.”
She said she was frustrated that she was not permitted to appeal the funding denial to retain the current program at TSJC.
“We went through the same thing in 2014, but at that time I appealed,” she said, “and we got the money back. This time we were told specifically no appeal.
“It is not right. A decision is made, and we just lay there and get kicked.”
She said the state told TSJC it did not score high enough for funding. She knew of another program in the state that also did not meet the threshold but was given an opportunity to revise its grant request.
“Why were we not given that opportunity?” she asked. “That’s something that’s appealable, but we can’t do it.”
She added, “I am not appealing the score as much as I am the process.”
She added that the state required the grant requests to be limited to 16 pages, with which she complied, but she could have included more information. Some programs in the state sent in grant requests of anywhere from 30 to 99 pages and received funding, while she complied with the rules but did not receive funding, she explained.
“That’s appealable,” she said, “but we were not given the opportunity.”
The legislature requires GED programs in areas that are rural and most in need, she added.
“Are we not rural? Are we not most in need?” she asked.
She added that if students cannot better themselves by earning GED’s, the Valley is just adding to the poverty that already exists here, especially with two of the state’s poorest counties being in the San Luis Valley.
“What are we doing to this community if not creating more and more poverty?”
The nearest funded programs are in Durango and Trinidad, she said, which would make it impossible for San Luis Valley students to attend because of the distance. Rael-Lindsay said transportation was already an obstacle in the Valley itself, in addition to childcare.
Rael-Lindsay said she does not have the option of appealing the state’s funding decision now, because TSJC had 30 days from the time the May 1 decision was rendered in which to file an appeal, and she was not allowed to do that.
Simone did not agree that TSJC would have had a defensible appeal.
“We need to respect the process,” Simone said. “There’s really no reason for us to appeal other than the fact we wish we had been funded. We just did not submit the best of grants, and we can accept that and will build on our program and three years from now will compete again and hopefully will be successful that go around.”
Simone said the services would not go away for students, because the college committed its own resources to fund these services.
“No way we could turn our back on our students, no way,” Simone said. “The program is not going away.”
Rael-Lindsay indicated she might try to obtain funding to continue directing a GED program in another location.
“I have been looking into grants,” she said.
She said some GED programs in other areas of the state are operated through nonprofit organizations, and the San Luis Valley could do that.
She was concerned that the current students and those with pending applications would not continue pursuing their GED’s under TSJC’s modified program.
“I would bet our students and the clientele we serve will not come to that tutorial program,” she said.
Currently the GED program at TSJC has 90 enrolled students, with 17 graduating this Saturday. Many more are at the application stage. Rael-Lindsay said the program tests 7-10 students every month who begin the GED preparation process.
Rael-Lindsay said staff treats the students with dignity even though some might come in at a fifth grade educational level. She said 80 percent of the students who come into the program are below an eighth grade level. For some it might take two to three years or more to reach the level where they can earn their GEDs.
Dr. Simone said TSJC will continue offering GED courses but will be doing it outside the grant process that funded it in the past, which she said would actually give TSJC more flexibility since it would not be tied to the grant stipulations.
She explained that students would be able to come into the college and receive one-on-one assistance from two instructors, one in English and one in math. Students would still be able to take the GED tests, she said.
Simone said after June 30 there would be a break, which is common for all programs, with instruction resuming the beginning of August. TSJC will be reaching out to those enrolled in the program to let them know how it will continue in the future, she explained.
“We will take care of all of those students,” she said.
One student enrolled in the TSJC GED program but not likely to graduate until December is Heather Navares of Alamosa.
She has taken the language arts test, is currently studying math and has not yet tackled the social studies and science portions. She began on March 16 and recently quit her job at a fast food restaurant to focus on her GED preparation.
She has four children and is raising a nephew.
“My kids are old enough now where I wanted to go to school, better my life instead of working fast food,” Navares said. “I didn’t want them to see that I didn’t finish school. I want to be an example for them … I wanted to better my education so I could get a good job.”
She planned to go into early childhood education after earning her GED.
Navares said when staff told students that this program would end on June 30, some just walked out because they knew they could not finish by then.
“I don’t know if I am going to finish or not now,” she said. “I am probably going to have to go back out there and look for another job.”
Dropping out of school in seventh grade and having children at a young age, Navares has worked since age 14. She has tried to work towards her GED before, but she was a single working mom at the time, and her children were younger, so it didn’t work out. Her oldest is now 10. She also has a supportive husband now.
She added that other GED programs lacked the one-on-one attention she needed.
“I have tried online, and it’s so hard. It’s better hands on,” she said. “I like coming here. It’s quiet. The teachers are here to help you.”
“I have learned a lot since I have been here,” Navares said. “I didn’t know my multiplication and I know it know. I didn’t know how to do an essay.”
She said she was excited to get up and come into the classroom every day.
“I love it here.”
She added, “This program going away is going to affect a lot of people, people trying to better their lives.”
Navares said although this was not her situation, some have been court ordered to pursue their GED while others are in the program to comply with Department of Human Services requirements.
She said she did not know what she and others like her are going to do.
“I don’t know. There’s a lot of questions and no answers,” she said. “I don’t understand why.”
Pictured above seated from left are Trinidad State Junior College General Education Development (GED) Program Director Anna Mae Rael-Lindsay, student Heather Navares and program assistant Melissa Montoya. Standing are GED instructors Mary Richards, left, and Gary Petty, right.