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Tammy Fugate left high school after an incident at an inner-city school scared her so badly that she feared for her safety.
Fugate, of Dry Ridge, did not graduate but kept the idea of earning a GED in the back of her mind.
For nearly 12 years, she worked at the Gap, but a few months ago she was the victim of a stalled economy.
“They called me into the office and said I was losing my job,” said the outgoing mother of a 9-year-old son. “I know it was time to get my GED.”
She lost her job in March 2011 and by May, she began work on her GED.
Fugate nervously went to the Grant County Adult Education Center, next of Grant County Middle School, to see what it would take to get her GED or General Equivalent Diploma. She thought she would be the oldest adult in the class, but she soon discovered that many Grant Countians had found themselves in the same situation she had and were returning to school to better their chances of finding a job.
She said there were days she was discouraged because the testing process was harder than she thought it would be and there were some classes that she needed to take that she hadn’t taken in high school.
“I knew this was something that the Lord called me to do and I never let myself get down about it,” she said. “I just knew I was going to get it.”
Faith is something that Fugate takes seriously. She believes God wanted her to use her story to encourage others and that’s what she did.
When fellow classmates would get discouraged, Fugate offered an encouraging word.
One day in class when a much younger GED student began to cry over the difficulty of the state testing, I told him to remember what they told us about popping a peppermint and taking a deep breath.
“It worked for me,” she said.
The peppermint method worked so well, that Fugate took two bags of peppermints with her for her final tests.
“I just wanted them to believe they could do this too,” Fugate said.
Amelia Cloud, director of Grant County Adult Education, said Fugate was a model student.
“Tammy was the type of student who did whatever was necessary to learn the material. She signed up for the classes and attended them faithfully,” Cloud said.
Her GED journey, like others before her, began with an orientation session followed by a series of taped tests. It takes six to nine months for most people to earn their GED.
The Grant County Adult Education Center, located behind Grant County Middle School, offers orientation at 9 a.m. on Monday.
“The tests were hard and I’ve been out of school for several years and there were things on them that I hadn’t even been taught when I was in school, but I was determined,” Fugate said.
She didn’t quit and by December, right before Christmas, Fugate earned her diploma, but she wasn’t satisfied with that accomplishment.
“I just said to myself, ‘I’m not stopping here. I’m going to college,’” she said.
With no money available to her through grants or scholarships, Fugate scraped together enough money to enroll at Gateway Community College to pursue a Certified Nursing Assistant degree.
Her goal is to find a job working in a nursing home with elderly patients, who she feels are often forgotten.
“I want to make a difference and I feel like that’s where God want me to be,” she said. “Those elderly people need someone to be kind to them. I just have a passion for helping them.”
But she’s not stopping there. Fugate would like to return to school and obtain training to be able to do phlebotomy, which would allow her to have more medical skills. Her obstacle right now is funding.
“I’m not going to stop, but I’m at a standstill until I find a loan or something,” she said.
Others have noticed her new found confidence and desire to get something more out of her life.
She said her husband, who also dropped out of high school, is hoping to work on getting his GED. She’s also been talking to a teenage neighbor who plans to drop out of school.
“If I can say anything to him or other young people, it’s stay in school. Yes, you can get your GED, but it’s hard and in my mind it’s not the same as that high school diploma,” Fugate said.
Because of her experience losing a job and not being able to find another one quickly, she’s realized what many displaced workers have - employers are looking for more than a GED.
“It is extremely important for people to continue their education beyond high school,” said Cloud. “Seventy-five percent of the jobs from now on will require some additional post-secondary education.”
Fugate also wants to set a good example for her son, Ryan.
“The whole time I was in school, he would say that I had more homework than him, but he was right there helping me with flash cards. He even said to me that he thought he’d probably just have to stay in school and go to college and I told him that he would go to college,” she said.
Fugate also took some satisfaction in proving to some naysayers that she could earn her GED, even if it was hard.
“My friend’s husband told me that I wouldn’t do it because it was too hard and to be out of school that long and then try to do algebra and geometry was a challenge, but you can do anything you put your mind to,” she said.
Fugate is active at Sherman Full Gospel Church, where she does volunteer work. She also cleans the church regularly.
“As a teenager I was rebellious and I thought I knew it all. I wanted to do it my way, but now I’m older and maybe a little smarter. I am also a Christian and I believe that the Lord has pulled me through this and I couldn’t have done it without his help,” Fugate said.
“There’s nothing wrong with factory work. I’ve done it my whole life, but I want to be able to better myself and to make a difference to someone else,” she said.