SUPAI, Ariz. – Nine people, ages 17 to 45, sat in the community center, not knowing what to expect.
But they knew they decided to come because they wanted to take the next step to get their General Educational Development (GED) certificate.
“I told them if they have the opportunity for a GED, they should take it,” said Carlos Powell Sr., Early Head Start Director on the Havasupai Reservation.
On Thursday and Friday, July 19 and 20, four members of Coconino Community College went down to the village to offer an orientation meeting for the first class of students interested in getting their GED. The effort, it is hoped, will grow in the coming months. The effort, made through CCC’s Adult Education program that is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education administered by the state, is meant to offer more opportunities for tribal members.
“We want to create more opportunities for the Havasupai people by making education more accessible,” said Gonzalo Perez, Associate Provost at CCC.
The purpose of last week’s orientation was to test the new students on their current knowledge and what deficiencies they may have to successfully completing the exams required for receiving a GED, Perez said. Additionally, CCC Information Technology specialists upgraded all the computers with software required for the students to study course material that will prepare them for the GED exams. Stations will be available at the Head Start office and at the community center in the village, but students can also access their coursework from home if they have a computer.
Perez added that students are expected to take six to eight weeks to finish course work in English, Reading and Math. The total bill for the project currently is anticipated to be $5,000, which is supported by CCC, the Havasupai Tribe and the federal Adult Education grant. The testing during the orientation days helped to set the benchmark on what the students need to work on to be able to pass the GED exams.
Once the students finish the course work, they will be tested again and given a “green, yellow or red” light to determine their readiness for the GED exam. Students with yellow and red lights will get further instruction to prepare them for the exam, Perez said. The students who get the green light will travel to CCC in Flagstaff to take the actual GED exam.
“It’s important to have feet on the ground for this project, to help maintain motivation,” Perez said, adding that many of the students have low confidence in their abilities to complete the course work.
That’s where Powell, who has worked with the Havasupai for 25 years, comes in. He will monitor the students and help keep them on track to reach their goals. Additionally, he or an assistant will be on hand Tuesdays and Wednesdays at either the Head Start office or the community center to help the students with problems or to navigate the course software.
Powell said that although he doesn’t know exact numbers on how many members of the 600-member tribe haven’t graduated from high school, he was confident the need was significant enough to warrant the program.
He put the word out less than a month ago and got an immediate response.
“The community found out about it, and they began asking how to do it,” Powell said, adding that a total of 11 students are in the first class and plans are in the works to start recruiting for another class in early September when the school year starts for children on the Havasupai Reservation. As part of his work with Head Start, he also counsels parents on what they might need to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Powell said he will be suggesting the GED program.
“We hope to have it to grow and see how many people we can walk through this, and show them that it can happen,” Powell said. “It is definitely needed here. I want to see the parents be successful … You’re never too old for education, and once you get that education, no one can take it away from you.”
Perez said that in addition to opening up tribal members to the possibility of better jobs, it also opens them up to the possibility of going to college – something that had never been an option before. Perhaps, there might be a certification or associate degree in construction, nursing, or IT.
The hope, Perez also said, is to start an educational achievement movement in the village.
Powell said, “I’m so glad that CCC helped get this up and running, and we’re going to keep it running.”