Northeast Times

Making the Grade

Jovan Cor­d­ero (right) wel­comes May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter to the North­east GED Cen­ter. Cor­d­ero is a former stu­dent. DONNA DIPAOLO / FOR THE TIMES

— 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.

Start­Frag­ment

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

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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