For 21-year-old Gemera Gilmora, the E3 Logan/Olney Center’s free GED program is a welcomed change from her high school experience.
“Within the two years that I’ve been here I’ve learned more than in my high school years – even some middle school,” Gilmora said.
Gilmora dropped out of high school several years ago after being held back. She said that she felt as though her teachers weren’t invested enough in her future. Those feelings changed upon her enrollment at the center’s GED program two years ago. As she worked through her individualized curriculum designed for her by one of the center’s four advisors, Gilmora noticed a difference in atmosphere.
“I think that all the teachers and directors are sincere about helping you earn your GED,” Gilmora said. “Even beside school, if you have a personal problem, they’re always there.”
Unfortunately, due to a recent decision by the center’s funding source, Philadelphia Youth Network, those advisors will no longer be there. After three years of serving Olney and Logan residents, the center’s contract is up and has not been renewed. The center is one of five E3 locations in the city, all of which compete for funding from Philadelphia Youth Network.
“They said that our proposal did not address our strengths and what we do well in detail, and that a couple other centers were able to do a better job in terms of that,” said E3 Logan/Olney Center Director Denise Savage.
Despite boasting the highest graduation rate of the E3 centers for 2011-2012, with approximately 40 percent of the season’s graduates, according to Savage, the center will close its doors to students June 14. For students still in the process of earning their GED, like Gilmora, the closing may be disruptive. The E3 Logan/Olney Center is the city’s northernmost center; the next closest location is more than 4 miles down the road at 1231 N. Broad St. Savage and her team are working to ensure that such students can make a smooth transition to other city centers.
“Transportation is one of the biggest pieces,” Savage said, noting her center’s convenient location by multiple transit hubs. “When you begin to put these types of programs in the inner community area, it begins to affect who’s going to go.”
With a new GED center, separate from the E3 centers, tentatively set to be built within Police District #22, an area broadly encompassing Northwest Philadelphia from 11th to 33rd streets, convenient access to public transit may be an issue.
The loss of funding comes at an unfortunate time as the Philadelphia School District experiences a slew of school closings and consolidations, bumping up class sizes and possibly disorienting students.
“I’m just so concerned”, Savage said. “Students don’t do well when they go from one community to another.”
The city-wide student-to-teacher ratio stands at approximately 16:1 for the 2010 to 2011 academic year, according to the National Center For Education Statistics. E3 students said they value the center for its one-on-one approach to teaching.
“I learn better when I’m not around a lot of people,” said E3 graduate Bridgette Henry.
As the GED testing format goes digital in January 2014, personalized training will become even more significant as many students will also have to worry about their computer proficiency, said Savage.
“One of the biggest advantages is that the classroom enrollment is significantly less, thereby allowing for a great deal more one-on-one interaction between a staff member and a student,” said E3 Logan/Olney Center Case Manager/Advisor John Thomas.
Coupled with the citywide graduation rate at just 61 percent as of 2011, the need for alternatives to traditional high school diploma attainment is high. Other GED centers exist in North Philadelphia, however, most are lacking the budget-conscious services that E3 provides, such as two free SEPTA tokens for commuters, free breakfast and free classes. The center also waives the $75 fee for taking the GED exam. Other local options, such as the Northeast GED Center, located at 1928 Cottman Ave., charges $150 for 30 hours of classes. Without the E3 center, Henry said she would have attended Philadelphia Community College’s GED program, which charges a $50 program fee per semester.
“It was either that or I actually purchased a GED book that I started studying. It’s not like how they teach it to us here,” Henry said. “When you do it by yourself, it’s hard. Whereas, here you have teachers to break it down.”
Without those teachers to break it down, the E3 team is worried about how students can access local, affordable GED training.
“We have some real concerns,” Thomas said. “I think the staff immediately[turned] their focus to ‘How are we going to fill this void to serve this population that is so in need of what we provide?’”
Despite its future, the center has left a lasting impact on students. Thomas recalled success stories of graduates who balanced raising children or were homeless while enrolled. For Henry and Gilmora, the loss of the opportunity for others to learn from their local E3 center may be the biggest disappointment.
“I wish that other kids could have gotten to see this program,” Gilmora said.