Working overtime to get a high school degree

Earning a high school diploma the hard way

Black Mountain News

This is what Chad Weaver’s life was like this spring. He’d get off work at 5 p.m. then rush home to cook dinner for his kids. He’d make sure they were doing their homework. And then by 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he’d be in the classroom himself, working on his GED.

Weaver had so much to make up. He’d dropped out of Owen High School some 20 years earlier – much more of a partier than a student, he said – and tested at the sixth-grade level when he entered the high school diploma program at Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry.

Shellie Constantine, mother of three, works on her GED at Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry recently. A certified nursing assistant, she wants the certificate to begin studies as a registered nurse. “I can’t get any further (without it),” she said. “I have to have this.”

He remembers nights sitting in his recliner, doing his homework while his daughter, in the seventh grade, sat beside him doing hers. Often times, she would explain parts he had trouble understanding. But Weaver, a maintenance supervisor for a local realty company, pushed himself. By May, a few months after he’d begun, he’d earned his GED diploma and graduated in the ceremony A-B Tech holds for GED graduates every June.

The next semester of A-B Tech’s GED program at the ministry’s Renae Brame Opportunity House starts Jan. 3. To accommodate its students, the program there has two times - 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday through Thursday and 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. (To sign up for a time to enroll, call A-B Tech at 398-7331 or the Renae Brame Opportunity House at 669-9440.) Enrollment is limited to 14 students per time slot (currently there are 10 students in both the morning and evening class). About half the students who start drop out, according to Marty Hubert, who teaches the GED studies at the ministry.

“They’ll sign up and be ready, but life happens with my students,” she said. “They have family issues, transportation problems - there are a lot of challenges. They have to be really committed to do well. We have a girl graduate last March, and 10 days later she delivered her first baby. If she hadn’t finished, there’s no telling how long it would be before she’d be back.”

But, she said, “motivation can make up for a lack of formal education with adult learners.” She knows that first-hand. Hubert, who lives in Black Mountain, dropped out of high school her senior year to get married. By the time she got her degree by going to night school, she was a divorced single mom.

When she got her associate’s degree, in Broward County, Florida, her parents, who had retired to Swannanoa, told her nothing would make them happier than to see her get her bachelor’s degree. So she moved to Black Mountain and enrolled in UNC Asheville. She got a degree in psychology with an emphasis on reading education. She took a job with A-B Tech as GED instructor.

Weaver dropped out of Owen High as a junior because he was running with the wrong crowd, he said. He went to class to socialize, not to study. “My priorities were not where they should have been,” he said. He wanted to get away from the people he’d been hanging out with.

Not having his high school diploma never prevented from getting the kinds of jobs he applied for. He worked in the Ingles warehouse as a “picker,” or someone who fills a store’s order – “very good money, but not good on your body,” he said. He was living at home, paying his portion of the bills. He got married.

Starting divorce proceedings in September 2015 made him want to make more of his life, he said. A friend had completed the GED program at the ministry, so he called and got in. And then it got hard. But Hubert helped him every step of the way, he said.

“She sat beside me countless hours and tried to show me how to do something I couldn’t do. She never once got frustrated,” he said. “You can tell dedication in a teacher by how they act in their heart. She truly has the heart. I called her ‘Ms. GED.’”

At one time, that endearment wouldn’t have been enough for Hubert. When she started teaching as a GED instructor she, like many of her students, had a poor self-image.

“I was ‘only’ a GED teacher, like I was an underachiever not living up to my potential,” she said. “But over these years, I’ve come to see the part that I’ve played in helping people change their lives. I’m here to help them reach their goals.”

Chad Weaver with daughter Gracie, 13.

Three years ago, a woman approached Hubert at church to tell her that, having finished Hubert’s GED classes, she had only two classes left to get her associate’s degree at A-B Tech. “That touched me personally,” Hubert said.  

Chad Weaver with his son Dakota, 15.

Weaver, who is starting to pursue his plumber’s license, is not making any more money by having his high school degree, he said. But he got it for other reasons. One was because he felt he’d cheated his mother out of seeing him 

graduate from Owen. Another was because he wanted to feel some pride. Most importantly though, he said, “I wanted to prove to my son and my daughter that just because you make bad decision doesn’t mean that you can’t fix them. That’s what life’s about.

“I made this mistake. But it’s fixed.”