Pilot program will help DeKalb parents earn diploma

Thanks to one DeKalb County School District (DCSD) program, a Miller Grove High School parent has found a renewed interest in education, a rekindled sense of purpose, and an inner source of empowerment.

“When this happened, it changed my whole outlook on life,” she says.

During Summer 2018, DCSD’s Department of Family & Parent Engagement launched a pilot program offering free General Education Diploma (GED) classes through partnerships with local higher education institutions.

Katrina Parker talks about GED program

The program—which began with approximately 20 students and has been renewed for Fall 2018—only required participants to be ages 23 and older, have a state-issued ID, and be a parent or guardian of a current DCSD student.

When Miller Grove High parent Katrina Parker received word of the program, she did not hesitate to register. Parker, originally from Alabama, decided to invest in herself and her new life in Georgia by registering in the DCSD program.

Parker dropped out of high school more than a decade ago, but always told herself she would go back and finish. Now that her daughter is on the verge of graduating, Parker considered this a golden opportunity. Her daughter’s age, her own commitment to her daughter’s education, as well as her husband’s encouragement, seemed to spur this decision onward.

Within a few weeks, Parker was attending GED-specific classes at Georgia Piedmont Technical College, meeting instructors and classmates, taking notes, and doing homework. While the classes proved to be challenging at first, she said she discovered new aspects of herself as well as what she is capable of accomplishing.

Parker has advanced in grade levels, conquered once difficult subjects, and discovered an innate curiosity in education.

“I feel like the sky is the limit—There are endless possibilities for what I can do,” Parker said. “The hardest part in the beginning was believing in myself. But I found out you’re never too old to get your high school diploma, your GED, and you’re never too old to start learning and take on new challenges. I have something I didn’t have before: drive.”

Thanks to DCSD’s offering of free tutoring twice per week, Parker no longer feels threatened by subjects she once felt to be daunting, such as high level math. Now, other students in the program often come to her with questions and advice on studying. Parker’s habits have inspired her son to also attend classes.

“My head hurts, but I like it,” Parker said. “I’ll stay up to 2 o’clock in the morning studying. It’s so rewarding. Every day I learn something new. And, I have a 12th grader who can help me.”

Parker credits DCSD staff for being patient and offering tutoring sessions each week. She now considers many staff and fellow students to be extended family. Students encourage one another to continue attending the program, and often organize transportation if a lack thereof prevents attendance. In some cases, staff have also pitched in to help.

“When we don’t see each other, we call each other up,” Parker said. “We started this together and we plan on finishing it together. I’m so thankful for this program.”

Narva Dunlap, a specialist at the Department of Family & Parent Engagement, said the program is designed to be a family environment. Dunlap credits the vision of Marcia Coward, DCSD Family Engagement Director, as well as the intention to connect family members to their child’s education,

“It takes a village to raise our children, our students, our parents, and our DeKalb County families,” she said.

GED parent poses with employeeUpon obtaining her GED in December, Parker plans to continue her education in college at either Georgia Southern University or Georgia State University. She hopes to take advantage of wisdom gained in her own experiences to eventually become an at-risk youth counselor.

“I want to show teens who may not have had advantages that I also came from a single parent home and I also made some bad choices … but was able to clean up everything,” Parker said. “I’ve been there, and done that. I feel like I’ll be able to relate to them more. I want to go as far as I can. I’m going as far as this can take me.”

Parker has gained a new sense of drive in her life overall as a result of the program. She is constantly reminded that, 10 years prior, her own education was not a priority. The move to Atlanta, the age of her daughter, and her own free time seemed to align to provide the perfect opportunity.

Parker now feels empowered to do more and be more.

“I’ve always been a mother and I’ve always been a wife. For as long as I can remember, those were the only titles I had, along with sister, daughter, and friend,” Parker said. “Now I know I can be more than that—my story has just begun. Now, I don’t know what ‘no’ is. There’s no such thing as ‘I can’t,’ because I can. My kids are proud of me, and now, I’m proud of myself.”