Students jump hurdles to achieve joint GED, A+ certification

When Dorsey Brockington learned that he could get his GED diploma and receive a certification in information technology through one program, he jumped at the chance.

"I was interested, so I joined," said Brockington, a resident of Randallstown. "I had no reason to say no."

Brockington is one of 15 students who enrolled in Carroll Community College's joint GED diploma and A+ information technology certificate program.

The program at Carroll is a part of the Maryland Integrated Basic Education Skills Training, or MI-BEST, a grant-supported program that allows adults to simultaneously receive a GED diploma and industry-based certification.

"They're always going to need somebody doing something to computers," Brockington said. He previously worked as an electrician but wanted to change careers.

The Carroll program was supported through a $50,000 joint grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

As with many adult education programs, problems arose causing nearly half of the students to drop out of the program; only nine students completed it.

"The material itself is challenging […] but it's worth it," said Kasey Parham, of Finksburg. "It's hard at first, but it gets easier."

According to Becki Maurio, director of Workforce Training and Business Services at Carroll, the nine graduates have had to overcome numerous obstacles to make it to graduation.

"I think the [program drop-outs] speak to the challenges that this population has," Maurio said. "The nine with us have been really dedicated. We even had one student who became homeless this week."

Some of the funding went to help students get to the program in the evening. Program facilitators distributed gas gift cards to students to provide some relief during the program.

Maryland's joint diploma-certification program was based on a similar program in Washington called the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program, which received a lot of attention for spearheading accelerated learning, said Patricia Tyler, director of adult education and literacy services with DLLR.

DLLR provided funding for the academic classes and the Annie E. Casey Foundation funded the industry-specific courses, Tyler said.

"We ask the local programs participating in the MI-BEST pilot to identify the job focus based on local needs," Tyler said. "They used some national data and local state [data] to identify what jobs are available in this field at the entry level where these students will qualify."

For the Carroll program, Tyler said, researchers assessed the job market in the Baltimore-Towson metropolitan area to determine that IT was still a growing field.

Matt Day, who also works for Workforce Training and Business Services, said science, technology, engineering and math jobs have been growing in the Baltimore area.

"By training in a technology field, there are unlimited opportunities on what they can do," Day said.

According to Tyler, 16 percent of the current IT workforce is reaching retirement age and there is an anticipation of need in the field.

Parham said that the program not only challenged her, it helped her determine where her aptitude lay within the information technology field. She now knows that she wants to pursue a career in software and not hardware because she thrives on the creativity programming allows.

"With software, I can kind of let my ideas expand," she said.

The accelerated six-month program began in January with students meeting two evenings a week for four hours, said Maurio.

"Time is the enemy for adults," Maurio said. "An adult doesn't have the time to study and go through a program that's not accelerated. There's a sense of urgency to get into a good paying job to take care of families."

The program includes instruction blending, Maurio said, which mixes academic learning with hands-on practical application for students.

For the technical portion of their training, students will receive a A+ certificate, an internationally recognized IT program.

"The biggest advantage is in the IT industry, someone who holds an A+ certificate has an equivalent of six months of experience in the field," Day said.

Students spend little time in lectures and the bulk of their studies working on technology and completing repairs, Day said. He said students spent an additional 32 hours of direct hands-on practice, which they can add to their resume.

Prior to graduation, Carroll also started an internship program for students to practice their IT skills and increase their comfort level, Tyler said.

DLLR will be providing local job placement services and assistance to graduates of the program, Tyler said.

Times staff writer Heather Cobun contributed to this article.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

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