Walthall Nationally Recognized GED Graduate
When Ann McCauley met Jacob Walthall in 2012, he was 19, homeless and working odd jobs. Estranged from his family, Walthall had left high school early. He tried to join the Navy, but was told he needed a high school equivalency certificate. Walthall now stood in the Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) classroom at Douglas High School, looking for help.
"He told me he had hit rock bottom," McCauley remembers. "But his attitude was the biggest struggle. He wanted guarantees he would finish the class in eight weeks. It took him two years, but he did finish."
"In high school, I was always threatened with being sent to Douglas," Walthall said. "It was ironic that I ended up there. I thought I could just come into the Navy, sign up and that was it."
In those first few months, McCauley worked on Walthall's perspective as much as his test scores. From experience, she knew she had to address the student's emotional outlook as well as the educational needs.
"One night, I finally told him, 'Someone important to you said you were a failure, that you would never make it'" McCauley said. "That's too bad. I'm an expert on smart people and you're one of the smartest people I know!"
Like those large Navy ships in his dreams, Walthall's attitude was slow to turn around, but when it did, a whole new horizon appeared. He eventually passed his GED exam and immediately was offered three different jobs. He was so excited to be working that he accepted them all. However, on his next visit to the recruiting office, he learned the journey was far from over. Without a high school diploma, the Navy required 15 hours of college coursework alongside the GED.
Undaunted, Walthall reached out to McCauley for help in applying for summer college classes. The advisors at Moberly Area Community College cautioned against taking more than nine hours of summer classes, so Walthall again paved his own way.
"I went down the road to Columbia College and enrolled in two more. I took 5 classes, all online," Walthall recalled. "Having never taken a college course, I thought it seemed pretty simple until I saw what I actually had gotten into!"
Not having extensive computer skills and juggling all of the assignments proved difficult, so Walthall started keeping a journal of when projects were due. Between June and July, he passed all five classes, while continuing to work fulltime.
Walthall's final hurtle was completing the ASVAB, a comprehensive skills test required for incoming military recruits. After failing multiple practice exams, Walthall remembered that McCauley had helped him through Algebra for the GED, and he reached out again.
McCauley was now the AEL Director at Moberly Area Community College. Walthall moved to a friend's family farm in Sturgeon, living and working there while starting an intensive math review. Mornings were spent in class on the Moberly campus, afternoons working on the farm or in Columbia, and evenings back in the classroom. The schedule soon took its toll.
"It got to the point that I couldn't handle it. I had a meltdown. I was miserable, but after a couple of months I started making progress," Walthall said.
In the process, his story became inspirational to others in the class, motivating them to meet their goals, as well. The long days and nights paid off in December 2013 when Walthall passed his ASVAB and was sworn into the United States Navy.
McCauley shared Walthall's story with the Commission on Adult Basic Education, a national literacy organization. In March, he was awarded the Outstanding ABE/GED Adult Learner of the Year award at an annual conference in Pittsburgh. The trip included hotel, first-class airfare and a $1000 award. According to McCauley, the stories may change, but connection of the student to the teacher is what is most important.
"This is what our AEL program does. We have 150 students and every one of them has a similar story," she said. "No significant learning happens without a significant relationship."
On May 15, Walthall addressed participants and guests at the Moberly Area Community College 2014 High School Equivalency Recognition Ceremony in a much different capacity.
"I would encourage everyone to get their High School diploma, without a doubt. I took the scenic route, but I'm much more thankful for everything I've got," Walthall said. "For the longest time I've been told I need to find direction. Getting into the Navy was my long-term goal, but my GED was very important. Once I got my GED, I thought that would be the end, but I realized it was just my first step."