Getting a Second Chance at an Education


Artwork of Claire Gavin greets GED students at the PA CareerLink®-Chester County and United Way Financial Stability Center. “I want to make them smile,” she says. “I love people and want them to feel at ease when they come here.”

This East Fallowfield resident fell into teaching GED classes after staying at home with her children. Drawing on her education degree and love of math, Claire taught in Coatesville and later became involved with Chester County OIC  which coordinates the GED classes at the PA CareerLink®-Chester County and United Way Financial Stability Center.

Up to 15 students can attend a three-hour session in the morning or the afternoon four days a week. Participants aren’t charged for Claire’s instruction, though they often must purchase their GED textbook and pay the test fees.

Her students have ranged in age from 16 to 95, and Claire values their life experience and tries to learn different recipes and art skills from her pupils. Using a conversational style and drawing on her interest in acting, Claire uses creative stories to help her students understand difficult geometry and algebra concepts.  “Anyone can learn, as long as they stick with the classes, don’t give up and are willing to do their homework,” she says.

Many of Claire’s GED students received an advanced degree in another country but struggle with their English language skills. Others have worked for years and want to apply for a promotion. And the majority of students want more confidence in helping their children with homework.

“I’ve see first-hand how Claire’s wit, humor and brilliance are incorporated into her teaching style. It engages our adult learners in such a significant way: building their confidence and getting results,” says Joyce Chester, President and CEO of Chester County OIC.

The GED test started in the 1940’s to help World War II veterans qualify for GI Bill educational benefits. Its tests are now aligned with Common Core standards in math, science, language arts and social studies. Many are surprised by the level of difficulty. For example, the math test is 80% geometry and algebra, while less than a quarter is focused on basic math skills like fractions and decimals. “Math is the biggest struggle for students,” Claire says. “But many times, students will say they’ve come to enjoy math. That’s when I know I’ve done my job well.”

Even though potential employees may excel at welding, painting or another skill, Claire says employers still like to see that someone has completed a long-term goal. “The competition for jobs is intense,” she added, “If someone doesn’t have a diploma or can’t speak English very well, they might not get hired, even though they’re a great employee and can do the job well.”

In addition to the classes, GED testing is also available at the PA CareerLink®-Chester County and United Way Financial Stability Center which is within 75 yards of a stop for the Route A bus. Additional GED classes are also offered in West Chester, Phoenixville, Oxford, Downingtown and Coatesville. “These classes are just one way that we’re empowering people to better provide for their families,” says Terry Kenworthy, United Way’s VP of Community Investment. “The goal of the PA CareerLink®-Chester County and United Way Financial Stability Center is to help people increase income, reduce their debt and build their savings. Our partners are tackling this problem from every angle by coming together to provide a range of job training, financial counseling, supportive services and job recruitment services, all under one roof.”

Claire noted that her students often excel at critical thinking and problem solving, as well as reading news and keeping up with current events. “But people are often insecure about what they don’t know,” she added. “I view it as a team effort, and we’re both working to help them get to where they want to go.”