Omega School helps students get GEDs despite pandemic’s added challenges

PAMELA COTANT For the State Journal |

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on more challenges for people working to get the degree that has eluded them since they were high school-age.

“It’s kind of hard because you have to take a test with a mask (on),” said Ismael Zarinana, of Madison, who is working to get his GED, or general education degree. “It has been a challenge. You need to take a deep breath.”

Zarinana, 46, would normally be able to take the tests at Madison Area Technical College, but, because it is closed, he and other students have to drive up to Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton for testing.

“There’s been a host of different challenges. Every time we figure out one, there has been another one,” said Oscar Mireles, executive director of Omega School on Madison’s South Side, which helps students get their general education degree, or high school equivalent degree. “For each student, everything is OK until the next problem.”

For example, some students say they lost their job so this is a good time to study, but then they might struggle to find a place to live, Mireles said.

Another issue initially was that Fox Valley Technical College wasn’t open, either, for students to take their tests.

Then there was an incident in which a student stood in a line at Fox Valley she thought was for taking a test until someone tried to give her two bags of groceries and she realized she was in a line for receiving some food. She missed the first of two tests she had planned for that day and hasn’t made it up yet.

Mireles said that except for one day when he stayed home as shut-downs began, he has been coming to Omega since the pandemic hit. He said it has been helpful because he can answer the phone. Some people showed up at the school and he was able to talk to them through the glass doors. Other staff are working remotely.

But Mireles has found the phone does not replace the in-person informational interviews done in the past, so he has turned to the Zoom video conferencing app.

“I can gauge how interested they are,” Mireles said. “If it’s just on the phone, you can just kind of hide a lot.”

Probably the biggest change, Mireles said, is that every step — such as emailing, calling and texting — takes time.

Before the pandemic, students would…continue reading on>

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