Aspire program

Amanda Ailiff, an Aspire GED graduate who went on to get her bachelor’s degree, speaks of her inspirational journey to current Aspire students at the Patton College of Education on Friday. Ohio University is the first four-year institution to receive an Aspire Adult Workforce Readiness Education Grant. Sitting, from left, Renée A. Middleton, dean of The Patton College; M. Duane Nellis, president of Ohio University; and John Carey, chancellor of Ohio Department of Higher Education and other community partners observed the first class in the Stevens Literacy Center. Provided photo by Kimberly Berlag.


Education is key to the success of Athens County communities. That’s the message shared by several administrators of higher education following the inaugural adult-literacy class in a new, grant-funded Ohio University program.

The university is Ohio’s first four-year institution to receive an Aspire grant. Aspire – formerly Adult Basic Literacy Education (ABLE) – is a program sponsored by the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) that provides free services to assist individuals in acquiring skills to be successful in post-secondary education, training and employment. Ohioans 18 and older with less than a 12th grade education are eligible to participate, according to an OU Compass article about the university’s new program.

Three adult students furthering their education, Charla Gretz, Staci George and Shasta Glover, met in OU’s Stevens Literacy Center in the recently renovated McCraken Hall Friday morning, along with a number of witnesses including ODHE Chancellor John Carey, OU President Duane Nellis, Dean of OU’s Patton College of Education Renée Middleton, and a number of instructors and administrators from the Aspire programs of the Departments of Job & Family Services in Athens and Hocking counties.

After introductory comments and a quick tour of the Stevens Center, everyone gathered in a conference room where the Aspire students participated in a lesson on comparing fractions. Sally Young and Scott Hatfield, two Aspire teachers from the Athens County JFS OhioMeansJobs Center, offered individualized help and instruction, and made sure every student understood the material before moving on to the next step. Once the students had completed the lesson and taken a brief quiz, the invited guests offered words of encouragement to the students, and some GED graduates shared their stories.

Gretz said she recently completed her GED and has plans to enroll at Hocking College next fall, where she hopes to learn to train service dogs. Both her daughter and son have epilepsy and a number of other conditions that warrant the assistance of a service animal, Gretz said, and she wanted to do something to help families and kids like hers.

“We live in southeast Ohio and income is an issue,” Gretz said, adding that it costs “a lot of money” to purchase a service dog. “... I’ve worked with animals all my life, and I thought how can I combine these two things and make a career?”

When she discovered the Animal-Assisted Therapy program at Hocking, which she expects to prepare her to become a certified Canine Training Specialist, Gretz said she knew that she had found the best program for herself.

Staci George and Shasta Glover are in the process of completing the Aspire Adult Diploma Program, instructor Sally Young said, which allows students to obtain their GED while also receiving free job training to prepare them for a career, nursing in the case of both George and Glover.

“They will both have their adult diploma equivalency, but they will also be career ready,” Young said.

Young and Scott Hatfield said roughly 55 or 60 people have shown interest in the new Aspire program so far, though not all have enrolled.

“We’re doing outreach in a number of different ways this year,” Young said, explaining that the goal is to encourage eligible people to come to the center.

“People know where we are. We’ve been (at the Work Station at OhioMeansJobs) in The Plains since the year 2000, so it’s just getting them in the program,” Young said. “...If you can get them through the door that first time… that’s really significant.”

Transportation is an issue for many of the people in Athens County, and Young said that’s one of the challenges the program has been trying to overcome. The program offers some shuttle services, and HAPCAP “does bring some of our students in at a regular basis,” Young said.

With the online learning platforms the program utilizes (including Aztec GED Prep and Kahn Academy), students have the opportunity to complete lessons anywhere they can connect to the internet, Young said, which “helps a lot.”

Amanda Ailiff, a GED graduate and Community Psychiatric Supportive Treatment (CPST) provider for Hopewell Health Centers, shared her story as well. She said she had four toddlers to care for at the time she decided to further her education. She credited the Aspire staff at Hocking County Job & Family Services for helping her get through the process.

“I studied really hard for a long time,” Ailiff said, adding that she passed the GED test on her first attempt, which she had not expected to do. Ailiff went on to enroll at Hocking College, again with low expectations, and ended her first year with a 4.0 grade point average.

Ailiff has worked for Hopewell Health Centers for the last five years, she said.

“You guys can do it,” Ailiff encouraged the students who attended the class on Friday. “Keep going… We need you guys. We need great people in the professions in this area.”

ODHE CHANCELLOR Carey shared a personal story Friday of how his mother went back to complete her education as an adult. “I know how important it is,” Carey said. “… We really need the adult students coming back,” he said, adding the state of Ohio has jobs that need to be filled.

“One of my passions as the chancellor of higher education is giving people opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise had,” Carey said, adding that he was given those opportunities at Ohio University. “I can’t imagine the opportunities you’re going to have that you’re not even thinking about because of your education,” he told the students.

Patton College Dean Middleton noted the importance of three words that George and Glover had stated: “I’m still trying.”

“That’s so important,” Middleton said, reminding the students to be persistent in achieving their goals. “You are an inspiration,” Middleton said. “...As you were doing your lessons… I realized that there’s a lot that I could learn. So you’re not the only one struggling with this information.”

OU President Nellis said the university is “so proud” to be the first four-year institution to receive an Aspire grant. “I’m inspired by this program,” Nellis said, adding that one of the university’s goals is “to transform lives through education.”

“...Education, at every level, is so important,’ Nellis continued. He noted OU’s goal, under his leadership, to improve economic development in southeast Ohio. “To me, the thread that makes such a difference in making that happen is education,” Nellis said. “…Through our collective action, we can make a difference, and we are making a difference every day.”

Anyone interested in the Aspire program should call Aspire at 833-827-7473 or the local OhioMeansJobs office at 740-797-1405.

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