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Syracuse City School District teams up with Bryant and Stratton to offer GED program; Syracuse dad goes back to school

Anthony Brooks had just started the 10th grade when he went to jail for selling drugs. By the time his two-year sentence was up, he said he was too old, and too busy, to go back to school.

He had gotten a job working as a prep cook to help support his mother and sisters.

He also floated in and out of GED classes, but never found one that kept his attention, or got him in front of the actual exam.

But, fast forward about 10 years, and Brooks is a changed man.

The 31-year-old, married father of three is first chef at the Cheesecake Factory, and working on a business degree from Bryant & Stratton College.

Before much of that could happen, however, Brooks had to get one very important thing done first: he had to get his high school diploma.

And, he did just that this spring, thanks to a fairly new program that has been a joint effort of the Syracuse City School District and Bryant & Stratton College.

Brooks said he first heard about the program last fall, when his wife had been taking classes at Bryant & Stratton College.

He said he spoke with an admissions counselor, and began attending classes in December 2013.

Brooks said he could immediately tell the classes were different: he found the instructions engaging, and the faculty and staff seemed to deeply care about the students.

“I’ve taken other GED courses, but none of them have amounted to what B&S has done for me,” Brooks said.

He attended classes for about eight or nine weeks, and sat for the exam in January.

Then, Chris Payrot, program coordinator for the Bryant & Stratton GED program, called Brooks in February with good news.

“I was really lost for words,” Brooks said. “Me being the age that I am, I didn’t think I had it in me. But, knowing that I passed with a decent grade, I was happy.”

And, he’s not the only one.

Payrot said he’s thrilled at how the program is working.

Bryant & Stratton previously offered a GED-type program for many years until the funding was cut a few years ago.

Yet, calls from people looking for information about how to obtain their GED certificate kept coming though, Payrot said.

Those calls were always forwarded to the Syracuse City School District, which offered a GED program through the Sidney L. Johnson Vocational Center.

Recognizing the need for additional GED opportunities in the community, Bryant & Stratton decided to make classroom space available at its James St. campus, and the first joint-program GED classes were offered in January of 2013.

The first class was noon to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and it didn’t take long before every seat was filled.

Word spread quickly, and the calls flooded in, according to Payrot.

“We were getting 16 to 18 inquiries a day,” he said, noting that demand is still high.

The waiting list grew, and the district hired two more people to teach GED courses at Bryant & Stratton.

For most of this year, about 60 students have attended classes which are now offered in the morning, mid-day or evening.

Attendance is strong, and the program is experiencing success.

As of December 2013, 65 students have sat for the GED exam after taking courses through Bryan & Stratton College.

About 60 percent have passed, and 19 have enrolled in college.

In addition, the program is awaiting results on students who took the exam in March, Payrot stated, and there are more than 80 people on the SCSD waiting list.

The school district’s GED program offers courses at other locations besides Bryant & Stratton as well, Payrot said, but he’s not surprised his is seeing such success.

He said the students enjoy taking classes on a college campus.

They get a Bryant & Stratton College ID card, and are afforded many campus opportunities including library and tutoring privileges.

“We give them their ID, and, instantly, they feel like they are going to college,” Payrot stated. “Many say to me that, if high school was like this, they never would have dropped out.”

Students are required to attend at least 12 hours of classes before sitting for the exam, which is offered about once a month.

They must also show academic gain before sitting for the exam, Payrot said.

He said he wants to make sure they are ready to take the test, which the state recently overhauled, and made more difficult.

The exam includes sections on math, reading, writing, social studies and science.

There is no “typical student,” according to Payrot.

Ages range from 18 to 40, and 95 percent of students learn about the program through word of mouth.

The waiting list can be frustrating for some people, but Payrot said he does his best to keep in touch with each student once they call to say they are interested in pursuing their GED certificate.

Most don’t have to wait more than a few weeks to land a spot in the classroom, he said.

And, once they’ve made that call—often the hardest step for someone who’s never finished high school—Payrot said his approach kicks into gear.

Many students really enjoy the instructors, he stated, and, the end goal, according to both the school district and Bryant & Stratton, is a college education.

That’s why Payrot said he starts talking to students about college even before they are done with “high school.”

He said students attend an orientation to learn more about college, and the admissions process.

They even receive an advance acceptance letter, and a Bryant & Stratton T-shirt, Payrot stated.

“It’s a tool in my pocket to keep them engaged,” he said.

So, when Payrot called Anthony Brooks to tell him he’d passed his GED exam, he also told Brooks he was ready to start college.

Brooks said he jumped at the chance.

“I’m getting my bachelor’s in business, and, from there, I really don’t know where I will go,” he stated. “I’m very proud of myself. I’ve turned a new leaf in my life, and I’m trying to do better for myself. It’s still kind of hard to believe. How did I go from being accused of being a gang leader, to a scholar? It’s a lot to take in.”

Brooks said he’s told many people about the program, and encourages people to explore it as an option to improve their lives.

He’s in the process of convincing his 49-year-old mother to get her GED certificate at Bryant & Stratton College.

“She’s meeting with Chris on Monday,” he said.