GED is milestone for mother of six
[Editor's note: This is the fourth and final in a series of stories about adult education and literacy in Port Aransas. The series has shown that a substantial number of adults in Port Aransas face difficult lives because they don't have high school diplomas or GEDs. The series profiled a GED program in Port Aransas that faces an uncertain future, despite seeing more than 40 students pass through its doors in the two years the program has been in existence. The series also included an interview with former U.S. Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos, a part-time Port Aransas resident who said all parts of a community should work together to ensure that under-educated adults have easy access to GED and literacy programs. Today's installment of the series tells the story of how Port Aransas resident Gina Moorhead earned her GED.]
When Gina Moorhead got the letter in the mail that day, she immediately bolted out of her house with it.
Carrying the small, white envelope in one hand, she ran four blocks, barefoot, from her Oleander Street home all the way to Community Presbyterian Church.
She burst into the church office.
"I got it!" she yelled. "I did it!"
The letter, from the Texas Education Agency, contained a Certificate of High School Equivalency. Moorhead, 38, earned it in April this year after spending more than 160 hours studying in a GED class housed by the church. The Rev. Richard Safford, who had been following Moorhead's efforts for months, gave her a big hug.
"I carried that GED in my back pocket for about a month after that," Moorhead recalled later. "It sounds silly, but it was a big deal for me (after) going that long without a diploma."
Moorhead's journey to earn her GED is a story marked by struggle, frustration and perseverance.
She grew up in Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska. While living in Oklahoma, she got pregnant at the age of 14 and dropped out of high school. She got married at 15. By the time she was 17, she had three children.
Moorehead said she didn't go back to school largely because she had to stay at home to care for her children. She had no close family nearby to help out.
Moorhead has worked most of her adult life as a housekeeper, convenience store clerk, home health care worker, roofer and cook. She also repaired and sold vacuum cleaners for a while.
Moorhead has lived in Port Aransas for the past nine years. She now has six children, ages 6 to 24.
Moorhead said she was motivated to seek a GED because she didn't want to feel like a hypocrite as she encouraged her children to study hard in school.
"I can't tell my kids, 'You have to go to school, you have to do this and that, you have to graduate,' if I haven't," she said. "How can I preach it to kids if I hadn't actually done it?"
In 2005, when she heard that a GED program was getting started in Port Aransas, she signed on. The classes weren't hard, she said.
"I've always been a good learner," she said. "I just needed someone to help me achieve what I knew I could do."
At the time, the free program was run only by its founder, Toni Somers, and an assistant, Linda Trepanier. (Somers and Trepanier have added Alice Marks since then. All three work as volunteers.)
For Moorhead, Somers and Trepanier made the classes a pleasure. The instructors showed great patience, breaking the subject matter down into easily digestible bits and offering small prizes to the students who performed best, Moorhead said.
The teachers "made it fun," Moorhead said. "They made it to where you wanted to learn, and you enjoyed it."
The fact that the GED classes were held in Port Aransas was critical. Moorhead said she could not have afforded the gas or the time it would have taken to leave the island for GED classes elsewhere - not while working two housekeeping jobs, and at a job as a restaurant prep cook and caring for her children.
Moorhead attended classes from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., two or three days a week, as time permitted. As a student, she stood out, according to Somers, who runs the GED program.
"She was probably the most challenging, the most exasperating and the most fun student we have had," Somers said. "I feel like she's kind of like me. She'll work at something, and then she'll say, 'That's enough, I can't do this anymore,' when she gets frustrated. And she'd leave. But she always came back. And that was the big thing. That's what marks her as a winner.
"She is a very, very bright woman," Somers said. "She just has so much potential to do anything that she sets her mind to."
In addition to getting lots of help from her GED instructors, Moorhead said support from her church - Community Presbyterian Church - was instrumental in helping her get her GED. So was the motivation she got from her own children.
Many times, Moorhead and her children found themselves all doing homework together in the same room.
"My oldest told me, if I didn't keep trying, if I dropped out, he'd just start getting Ds and Fs himself," Moorhead said. "My 6-year-old told me, 'You can do it, Mom.' "
Moorhead stands as the kind of success story that illustrates how important it is for the GED program to continue and hopefully grow stronger, Somers said.
More than 40 students have been involved in the GED program since Somers founded it two years ago. Not all of them have obtained GEDs, but their numbers demonstrate there is a need in Port Aransas for such a program, Somers said.
For health reasons, Somers said she may not still be running the program a year from now. Someone will have to replace her.
But Port Aransas needs to do more than simply replace the leader of a GED program that's staffed by three volunteers, Somers said. The town needs a professionally run program with longer hours for the many residents whose work schedules make it hard to attend classes during the limited hours the program currently operates, Somers said.
Folks who don't have high school diplomas need fewer obstacles in their lives - not more.
Moorhead said she nearly quit trying to get her GED when she ran into obstacles preventing her from taking the state test she needed to get a GED certificate.
The test was to be administered at the Del Mar College Testing Center in Corpus Christi. Authorities there required students to present a driver's license or Texas identification card and Social Security card before taking the test.
Moorhead hadn't had a driver's license, ID card or Social Security card since 2001, when her purse was stolen.
She contacted her father, who mailed her original birth certificate to her from Oklahoma. She used that to obtain a new Texas ID card and Social Security card. Then she was able to take the GED test.
She passed all parts of the test except for the math portion, which she took again and passed.
Moorhead said she isn't going to stop educating herself, just because she got her GED. She said she plans to take online Del Mar nursing classes.
Planning to get a degree as a licensed vocational nurse, Moorhead hopes to eventually work with children who have disabilities. The appeal in that line of work, she said, comes "when you watch what they're able to achieve after you work with them, and they start learning things."
"It's the smile on their face, that little achievement you see on their face."