Making the Grade
— The Northeast GED Center is building a solid track record of helping school dropouts who've come to realize that a diploma is critical for any degree of success in their lives.
Jovan Cordero, 26, attended Samuel Fels High School before dropping out during his sophomore year in 2001.
“It was a childhood mistake, and I paid for it for so many years,” he said.
Since then, Cordero worked various labor jobs. He also attended a few schools that teach students to pass the GED, but they didn’t meet his satisfaction.
Then, the Tacony resident learned of the Northeast GED Center, at 1928 Cottman Ave.
“I was driving by here and thought, ‘Let me give it a chance,’ ” he said.
Cordero attended a four-week session last August. He credited the instructors with helping him to improve his math and essay-writing skills.
On Sept. 19 of last year, he traveled to Community College of Philadelphia to take the GED test. He passed.
“On Sept. 20th, I got a job at SEPTA,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re hired. We’ll see you Friday.’ ”
Cordero took his physical, passed his customer service classes and is now a South Philadelphia-based bus operator for the transit company.
“It’s great pay, a good pension and nice benefits. It’s everything I ever dreamed of,” he said.
Cordero credits the Northeast GED Center for much of his success.
“This place was really a blessing,” he said.
On Saturday afternoon, Cordero returned to the Northeast GED Center as it celebrated the beginning of its third year. There was plenty to eat and drink, and Debbie Bello and Linda Damico provided musical entertainment.
Mayor Michael Nutter paid a visit and was impressed when Cordero told him about getting the SEPTA job a day after earning his GED.
“It doesn’t get much quicker than that,” the mayor said.
Bonnie Kaye, an Oxford Circle resident, is director of the center, located between Castor and Loretto avenues. She has worked in adult education for more than 25 years, including 21 years as a part-time GED teacher at CCP.
Richard Brown is principal and co-owner with Kaye.
On the wall is a list of famous people who have GEDs. The group ranges from newsmen John Chancellor and Peter Jennings to entertainers Paris Hilton and Eminem.
The list of GED recipients also includes Kaye, who dropped out of Lower Merion High School in 12th grade and earned her GED at age 26. Her high school equivalence diploma is hanging on the center’s wall. She went on to earn a master’s degree in education counseling.
There are morning, afternoon, evening and weekend classes.
“We try to accommodate everyone’s schedule,” Kaye said.
Students attend 12 sessions for 30 hours over a four-week period. The cost is $135, which includes materials and a practice test.
Kaye said people who earn their GED will improve their chances of landing a job and getting promoted, if they are already employed. And, they’ll have more clout when they tell their children to stay in school.
“After four weeks and thirty hours, they’re ready to go. You’re in, you’re out, you pass,” Kaye said. “The goal here is to pass the test. Your life will change.”
Brown said the GED pass rate for Northeast GED Center graduates is close to 84 percent on the first try.
“There’s such a demand for GEDs. Close to fifty percent of kids in Philadelphia public schools don’t graduate,” he said. “We’re doing quite well. We probably have the best program in the city.”
Kaye said students drop out of school for numerous reasons, including being bullied. The GED Center is handing out 10 scholarships for bullying victims, and Kaye asked Nutter to select five students to attend.
April Johnson, owner of CTS Computer Training, at 7718 Castor Ave., asked the mayor to select three bully victims to attend her center on scholarship.
Nutter, who signed the diplomas of the returning students, offered words of encouragement.
“Be a lifelong learner,” he said.
Nutter said he was inspired by some of the stories he heard. Businesses are looking to locate in places that have an educated workforce. People with jobs, he said, are less likely to commit crimes.
“A smarter city is a safer city,” he said.
Aaron Black, who’ll turn 26 on Saturday, dropped out of New Jersey’s Neptune High School as a sophomore to support his daughter. Luckily for him, he’s had some good jobs since then.
Black was unable to join the U.S. Navy Reserve without a diploma.
“I didn’t have that piece of paper,” he said.
Two years ago, he drove past the GED Center.
“I took it as a sign,” said Black, who is now in the Navy Reserve and looking at long-term occupation choices.
Lenny De La Cruz, 26, attended high school in New York for two years before dropping out in 2002.
“I wasn’t a school person,” he said.
A Castor Gardens resident and self-employed construction worker, he has a passion for aviation and wants to pursue that field. He attended the Northeast GED Center in February 2011 and passed the test a month later.
“They’re great teachers,” he said. “It’s the best thing I’ve done, to get my GED.”
Ryan Maiden, 29, dropped out of Northeast High School as a senior. He was on pace to be part of the class of 2000.
Maiden came to the Northeast GED Center in late 2010 and passed his test in January 2011. Though he remains unemployed, he believes the school has put him on the right path.
“I never would have been able to do it if I didn’t come here,” he said of passing the test. “I couldn’t be more grateful.” ••
For more information, visit the office at 1928 Cottman Ave., call 215-745-0141 or go to www.northeastgedcenter.com