February 9, 2007

Getting My GED When I’m Sleeping Outside

By Alex Gutierrez
New America Media

It is the first day of class, and I arrived at 5:45 p.m., a full forty-five minutes early. I thought I wouldn’t make it to school on the east side of San Jose, coming from downtown on the city bus. It’s actually good I have some extra time before class starts, since the trip over was tiring.

While trying to get my GED, I have to handle things that a lot of students here at the adult education school don’t. After rushing around filling out job applications, making sure my mom and sister are fed and trying to find out where we’re going to sleep tonight, I can use a break before cracking the books.

I’ve been on and off the streets for years. I’m trying to get my GED, so we don’t have to sleep outside again.

I stopped going to school when I was eighteen because at the time I didn’t know how to balance school with my work hours. Plus, I had to get second jobs because my first job wasn’t paying me enough or wasn’t giving me enough hours.

I mean, I have a family to feed. I can’t be dealing with chicken-feed-for-pay, entry-level jobs anymore.

But now a year later, after going to different continuation schools and trying to pay the bills at the same time, I am back on the education track so I can get a job that pays. I’ve decided to get a GED instead of a high school diploma because it was taking me too long to get a hold of my old high school transcripts.

I owed San Jose High Academy some school books from my freshman year, so they decided to hold my transcripts hostage until I paid the ransom. I never paid the books off, but in the end they had to give me my transcripts-as a homeless youth. I had no way of paying the money.

I was also shy about seventy credits of graduation, so it would have taken me about a full school year to get my high school diploma. Pursuing the GED instead, I should be able to complete the process in a couple months.

For the most part, what makes going to school difficult in my situation is the preparation it takes to get to class. Things that other students might take for granted, I have to make happen with effort. I have to line up the necessities (a shower, a meal, and clean clothes) needed just to step into a classroom.

For the things that I don’t have, I substitute. For showering, I wash up in a public library bathroom; where I brush, shave and give myself a bath. That’s how I try and maintain good hygiene. I wash my clothes at the youth drop-in center, and I pack lunches from the center as well. When I don’t have bus money, I walk to school, which takes at least a good hour.

In class, I sit quietly and listen to the teacher for two of the three hours of class. During that last hour, we have free time, so I take sample GED tests. I have been passing all of them. Usually, I am one of the last ones out, turning in my work, picking up my backpack and jacket and heading straight for the door.

On the walk back downtown, I just think about how I am going to get it together, make some money and fix my situation. I go to my night spot next to a closed office supply store in the cold 20 degree weather. I make it there around 10:30 p.m., and my mom and sister wait for me as usual.

It’s hard to sleep or get any homework done with the sound of cars driving by, blazing their horns, or drunk lushes coming out of the bar down the street talking smack and starting fights.

Even the smallest things start to bother you, like police harassing, saying they got a call from a tenant in the neighborhood, even though downtown San Jose is all city hall, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. I don’t see how someone could complain at 3:30 a.m., when the area is completely desolate, and we’re just sleeping.

The only reason I put up with all of this is because I know it has to get better-it can’t get any worse. I figure with my GED, I have a better shot at receiving more stable jobs, and for sure, it’s my ticket to college.

This past week, I took the GED pre-test for my reading comprehension, and passed it with 73 percent correct. I am now eligible to go to the Santa Clara County Office of Education and take the General Equivalency Test.

If all goes well, I will further my education at San Jose State University and obtain a degree in their Radio Television Film and Theater (RTVF) Program. I at least have to try. I mean, since I’ve gotten this far, I don’t see why I can’t go any further.

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