Making a difference, far from the spotlight
Four days a week, an act of love is taking place on campus, in a building few students know of. 2109 Terrace Avenue, in a renovated house, a teacher and volunteers are helping people get their GEDs and improve their lives.
“Knoxville WAVE is a program that’s been around for about 30 years, in this location for 30 years, and it serves students in the Knoville area that have had to drop out of public school for one reason or another,” Amanda Russell, the coordinator of the Knoxville WAVE said. She said students drop out for various reasons.
I want nothing but the best for them ... they genuinely know that I care and I’m there to better them.Amanda Russell“You’ve got some that are juvenile offenders, to those that are in state custody because of dependent neglect to girls that get pregnant,” Russell said. “People move. It can be as simple as they’ve moved in state and lost credits.” Moving can also be a hassle for international students. Foreign school systems can be too different to make equivocal.
“I have a young lady who moved from Ghana Africa to the United States in May and it’s been a culture shock for me and her,” Russell said. “Pretty much nothing would transfer in.” The WAVE works with students Tuesday through Friday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.
“We average about ten to 12 a day,” Russell said. She said they may have 20 actively working the program during a given period of time.
“The minimum age is 17,” she said, but some adults also come to Terrace Avenue for help. “We’re probably one of the only strictly youth programs. There are a lot of adult education programs.”
From 1999-2004, the WAVE has averaged 80 enrollments per year; 62 percent earned their GED or Credential. In that period, 67 percent, on average, went on to get jobs or enter a post secondary educational track of some kind. There were over 4,000 hours of assistance given each year. So how long does the program take?
“They always have the option of taking stuff home and working on it,” Russell said. “Someone could progress through the program as short as a week. I’ve had people here a year. Typically, it takes someone a couple of months.”
Russell said people hear about the WAVE through informed parents, friends, social workers, the school system and even courts. And a major benefit is the cost: there isn’t any.
Bethany Mincey, director of the WAVE, said that the “Department of Labor and Workforce Development actually awards the funds to Pellissippi State and Pellissippi State subcontracts to different programs.”
Not only are the tutorials free, they are custom-built for the individual student. Russell works with students one-on-one.
“It’s not a formal lecture or anything like that,” Russell said. “They’ll spend about their first three or four days in the program just taking assessments and giving me some idea of educationally where they are right now and then also that starts to warm their brain back up to processing information. And then we just work on the ones they’re short in.”
The GED tests are:
- Social Studies
Russell and volunteers help find a student’s weak area and then target bringing that score up.
“Math definitely is the weakest area,” Russell said. “I tell them 99 percent of the students that come through this program have to spend a little time in math.” But the learning meets the student where he or she is.
“I could really have 10 different kids working on 10 different things in any given day,” Russell said. She said they use GED preparation materials to teach from.
The GED examination is a grueling one.
“It’s about 8 hours if you take it all at once,” Russell said. “I do not encourage that with any of my students, so they typically go for two days, for about four hours a piece.”
But the students are tough, Mincey and Russell say. If they make it through, they often keep in touch out of gratitude.
“A lot of times, we’ll just be in here in the afternoon, and somebody will poke their head in, from four or five years ago,” Russell said. “They just update you.”
Many go on to trade programs and others immediately take jobs. Their successes, often having grown out of difficult circumstances, have a special meaning to those that work with them.
“I have been very privileged and I wouldn’t call my childhood a luxury by any means,” Russell said, “… just hearing them tell their stories and imagining how I would feel being raised in some of the households that they’ve had to endure … I am just continually amazed that they make it here, that they just have not given up …”
“Its amazing,” Mincey said, “… if you can catch them at this age, then you can see a change and totally redirect their path and what they’re going to wind up doing, and it’s neat to see that turn around.”