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Despite rough road, Fairbanks woman emerges triumphant on GED quest

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Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 3:33 am | Updated: 1:13 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

Part 3 of the News-Miner's look at the Alaska GED program

FAIRBANKS — Alysha Belden took her GED test in May. Her 23-year-old sister had died three days earlier.

“I said, ‘I really want to do this but I don’t know if I can,’” Belden said. “I knew that if I hadn’t done it I would have never followed through.”

The test marked the end of a tumultuous three-year journey to finishing her GED.

Belden, 21, is petite with brown hair, blue eyes and a big personality. She attended West Valley High School until halfway through her sophomore year. She had always earned As and Bs, except in math and gym.

“I wasn’t engaged in my classes,” she said. “I felt like being a student there, I wasn’t really heard. It was the school’s way or the highway.”

She was social but not interested in the high school scene.

“It wasn’t the right place for me. I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school. They were all into going out and partying every weekend,” Belden said.

She didn’t go back after January 2006. Instead, she enrolled in a correspondence program through the school district and completed classwork online for about eight months. Meanwhile, she worked as a hostess at the Westmark Hotel and then as a receptionist at Sourdough Fuel, where her dad and stepmom worked. But finding a solid full-time job wasn’t easy for a teenager without a completed high school education.

“It was so hard without the GED or any kind of diploma, and being so young,” Belden said.

She enrolled in Adult Learning Programs of Alaska, along with her mom and sister, to work toward her GED. But they all stopped going to class after a couple of months. Belden moved Outside for about two years and tried to maintain her classwork remotely but couldn’t find the motivation. Then she moved back to Fairbanks in 2008, met her boyfriend, Kevin, and got pregnant.

Everything changed when she had her daughter, Karly, in June 2009.

“That’s when I was like, ‘OK, this is it. I see her face. I gotta get on a path. I need to find a career,’” she said.

Belden applied for Adult Women in Management, a nine-month fully funded program through ALPA designed to give women more professional skills and launch them into management positions. Students can earn their GED along the way and specialize in one of three pathways: small business management, nonprofit management or construction and trades management.

Four months later, Belden had her GED. The management program gave her the extra structure and motivation that high school, correspondence school and the individual GED program did not. But she had to work for it.

“I started out at a fifth-grade math level,” she said.

Two nights per week, she went to classes that centered on math and professional development and took extra workshops and one-on-one tutoring.

“Finally, after an hour of repeating everything, it goes ‘click,’” she said.

The women in the program also provided emotional support, she said, which she leaned on at the time. Three months ago, Belden’s sister and cousin were arrested on charges of possessing 37 80-milligram pills of Oxycodone, a powerful prescription pain reliever, as well as more than $47,000 in cash. Her sister posted bail after spending three days in jail and losing 25 pounds.

“She passed away the next day,” Belden said.

Her classmates and teachers helped her cope as well as stay the course, she said.

“That was what she got, and she just ran with it,” said Therese Paetschow, coordinator of the management program. “She’s very stubborn, in a very good way.”

Belden is now enrolled in the second part of the management program, which focuses on business-plan writing. She decided last semester she wants to be an elementary school guidance counselor.

“Because of (Adult Women in Management), I know where I want to go in life,” she said. “Now I don’t have to worry about when I go to apply for a job whether I have my GED or not, because I have it.”

Belden is applying for financial aid at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she hopes to study psychology this winter.

“I feel confident,” she said. “It makes me feel better about myself, being able to get through all of that and still have my goals in sight.”

That doesn’t mean she recommends her meandering education path to others.

“I want my daughter to stay in school because it was so hard, and even with people behind me and the motivation I had, it was still really hard to keep on track,” she said.

Contact staff writer Molly Rettig at 459-7590.

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