Rick Smith is making a difference in Bryan County one student at a time.
For the last seven years, the Savannah Technical College adult education teacher has been helping adults in Richmond Hill and Pembroke earn their GED.
“There’s an overall need for this kind of education here,” said Smith. “It’s something that people don’t realize, but in Bryan County, about 20 percent of adults over 25 do not have a GED or a high school equivalency. That’s something I’m hoping we can change.”
To help bring about that change, Smith teaches free classes Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Richmond Hill Public Library and the Goodwill store in Richmond Hill. He also holds a class Wednesday at the Bryan County Elementary School in Pembroke.
The classes are offered through Savannah Tech’s adult education program and made possible by state and federal funding.
Brent Stubbs, Savannah Tech’s dean of adult education, said the library, Goodwill and elementary school are key proponents in improving adult education in Bryan County.
“Our partnerships ... help students not just earn a piece of paper, but also to make that vital transition to post-secondary employment where they can affect serious and substantial change in their lives and the lives of their families,” he said.
“A GED is a second chance,” explained Smith. “People fall through the cracks for any number of reasons in the education system. This is the thing that gets people back on track.”
Smith currently has about 30 students enrolled in Bryan County. He said he usually helps around 100 adults obtain their GED each year. Multiply that by the seven years he’s been teaching, and that’s 700 Bryan County residents who have bettered their chances in the job market.
“I tell my students all the time that education and intelligence have very little to do with each other, but education and opportunity have everything to do with each other,” he said.
Sarah Slade, 27, is one of Smith’s students at the Richmond Hill Public Library. She’s just one math test shy of completing her GED, and she said Smith’s tutelage is invaluable.
“He has a lot of patience and takes his time with each one of us. Math is his specialty — which is perfect for me — and he’s shown me a lot of easy ways to do fractions, where I’ve been doing it the long complicated way. I’m still getting the right answer, but he’s trying to simplify the way that I think.”
Slade is new to Smith’s class. She spent the first four months of her GED preparation in a less conventional setting.
“I was incarcerated for two years. I’ve been rehabilitated, and I’m trying to better myself,” she said. “Mr. Smith is helping me do that and get to a college level so I can have a successful career.”
Slade hopes to pass her last test this spring. After, she intends to apply to college and pursue a degree in graphic design.
Smith has full confidence that Slade can accomplish her goals.
“One of my past students, who’s now at the University of Wisconsin, said it best. She told me, ‘Mr. Smith, I’ve got places to go and someone to be.’ If a student works hard and commits, they can do, or be, whatever they set their mind to.”
Smith said his success with his students is the product of his own experiences. He gets it because he’s been there.
“I barely got through high school. I was not a good student at all, and if not for the help of a lot of folks, I never would have made it through. But I ended up going through high school, getting a college education and going on to get a masters degree,” he said. “It’s the idea that people need to live to their potential. Sometimes they just need a little help.”