|Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick|
|Margie Cooper gets a kiss from her service dog, Chelsea, who accompanied her on trips to the London ABLE office where Cooper studied for her GED test.|
Margie Cooper, 53, earned her GED this month, and she has something—actually, a lot of somethings—to say about it and what came before it.
• Someone has to care.
“I never had anyone in my life to set me down and teach me the importance of school. To me, school was just a playhouse,” said Cooper of her elementary and high school education.
She got straight F’s, yet was passed on from one grade to the next. Support was lacking at home, where Cooper said she endured abuse. Support at school was hard to come by, too, she said, as other students and even teachers made fun of her.
“The first time someone tried to help me was in eighth grade. Pastor Adams came in as a volunteer. He worked with me and two others who were struggling, but I was too far gone,” she said.
Her challenges were compounded when, in high school, a hereditary health con-dition started to take its toll on her body. Cooper was born with spinal cerebellar ataxia, a dysfunction of the nervous system that results in incoordination of muscle movement. Many other members of Cooper’s family have the same disease.
Students teased her about her condition. When a teacher teased her about a misspelled doctor’s note in high school, Cooper left and “didn’t bother to look back.” She was a student at London High School.
“Teachers, please take time with students who are not doing well and find out why they’re not doing well. There’s a reason behind it,” Cooper said.
• Make education a priority.
While education didn’t rank high in Cooper’s early years, she made a point of changing that attitude for her own children. She met her husband in 10th grade, and they were married in 11th grade. They have two children, Jamey and Rose.
“My goal was that my children would have a parent who cared and was involved with them and their schooling,” Cooper said. “I stayed on top of them and got them graduated.”
Jamey, 32, is in law enforcement with the U.S. Navy in Virginia. He has guarded the president’s home twice, and in January will transfer to Texas to teach classes on defense, training drug dogs and detecting bombs. He has two sons.
Rose, 30, lives just down the road from her mother in London, where she homeschools her three sons.
When Jamey was having trouble in high school, Cooper visited the principal, Steve Allen, who now serves as London City Schools superintendent. His words of encouragement included a reference to the phrase “shoot for the stars.” It’s a phrase Cooper said stuck with her, initially in reference to her children and later to herself.
• Go for it.
For years, friends urged Cooper to sign up for GED classes. She was busy raising a family at the time. When she finally decided to go for it, she started to go through GED study books on her own, then hooked up with Joan Pierce, a teacher who works at London Correctional Institution with Cooper’s husband.
A year-and-a-half ago, Cooper found London ABLE (Adult Basic Literacy Education).
“They have gone above and beyond. They give 110, 120 percent to help students to graduate,” Cooper said.
The free program starts with an assessment that is followed by instruction in trouble areas. Students have many options for preparing for the GED test. Some learn at home online through DEAL (Distance Education for Adult Learners), where they receive individual attention from an online instructor. Others study on their own or receive instruction from staff members and tutors at ABLE’s London office or satellite sites around Madison County. Some, like Cooper, do a combination of all of the options.
“Lynne (Alexander) is great. Whenever I needed more help, like with math, I could call her or come in,” Cooper said of ABLE’s director.
Over the last 18 months, Alexander, teacher Dick Wiseman, and the other staff members got to know Cooper and her constant companion, Chelsea. The Lab-rador retriever serves as Cooper’s service dog, keeping watch at her wheelchair’s side, getting to things Cooper can’t reach.
Earlier this month, when the staff decided to surprise Cooper with the news that she passed her GED test, they started with Chelsea.
“They showed up at my house with a red balloon shaped like a dog bone. It said congratulations to Chelsea for a good performance at the ABLE office,” Cooper said. “I didn’t notice that it also said ‘while Margie passed her GED test.’ ”
Even after Alexander pointed out the message, Cooper couldn’t believe she had passed. The math portion of the test had been difficult, she said. The score sheet finally convinced her.
“I feel so good that I have it,” she said. “I know my door is open now, and I can do anything I want.”
Cooper is looking into taking courses to land a job in medical billing. She also is entertaining the idea of pursuing a college degree. No matter which way she goes next, she’ll always preach the importance of an education.
“No matter what you go through in life, no matter how many people make fun of you, don’t give up. Education is the most important thing in the world… Keep at it,” she said.
In other words, shoot for the stars.
• GED Classes
To learn more about London Adult Basic Literacy and Education, call 740-852-9843. The organization offers its services from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at 179 S. Main St., London.
ABLE also has satellite centers in West Jefferson at Hurt-Battelle Memorial Library, 270 Lilly Chapel Road, and Mount Sterling Community Center, 164 E. Main St. The West Jefferson hours are 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday; call 614-879-8448; an open house is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 21. The Mount Sterling hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Monday and Thursday; call 740-869-2453; an open house is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 23.