Special Report: Reading Rights

Celease Bailey dropped out of high school in ninth grade but has since graduated with her G.E.D. / Ashley Knight

30 million Americans over the age of 16 are not literate enough to fill out a job application or read a newspaper story written at an eighth grade reading level.

Illiteracy is also a problem that's plaguing southwest Georgia, but one woman decided to break the cycle in her family.

Celease Bailey dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, mostly due to peer pressure.

"They weren't going to school, so I didn't want to go to school," said Bailey.

The second oldest of six children, she was following in the footsteps of her mother and older brother--they didn't finish school either. In spite of this, they weren't happy about her decision.

"There was people telling me that, but I didn't want to listen to them. I had to find out the hard way," Bailey adds.

Illiteracy isn't just hurting those dropping out of school. The estimated cost of illiteracy to taxpayers and businesses is $20 billion a year. 75% of fortune 500 companies provide some level of remedial training for some eight million workers at a cost of $300 million a year. Another fact to consider: 85% of juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are considered illiterate.

But Bailey was intent on not becoming a statistic. She was pregnant with her first child, daughter Destiny, when she made the decision to enroll at the Family Literacy Connection, meant to aid adults wishing to get their G.E.D.

"We work on the five parts of the G.E.D., which is language arts reading, language arts writing, math, science and social studies," says Executive Director Sandy Bamford.

Although Bailey was trying to get on the right path, the road wasn't easy.

"It was trying! The work they was giving me, I really wasn't comprehending it because of the grade I dropped out in. Actually some of the words I really didn't comprehend but I did what I could. And the math, it was extra hard," said Bailey.

Also part of the curriculum is parenting instruction--teaching students how to be an involved parent, which was great for bailey who was now a mother of two.

"They also go into their children's classroom, with parent and child together and learn to support the child's development. A lot of our parents come here because they want to be able to help their children with their homework, want to set a good example for their children. It can be done but it takes time and a lot of effort and commitment," says Bamford.

And it's because of that commitment that Bailey stuck to her studies and never once thought about quitting.

"No, not when I looked at my kids, I knew I couldn't give up. Because I want to see my kids do the same thing, I want to see them graduate," adds Bailey.

And venues for those opportunities are opening in Albany. Strive 2 Thrive helps families out of poverty and recently started G.E.D. training with the help of volunteers.

"And these are just individuals from the community that have taken their time to partner with our families and help them meet their goals," Says Program Director Ausha Jackson.

Albany Technical College also has an adult literacy program that reaches into the seven surrounding counties.

"We want to be a work ready community, but in order to have those specialized skills, we need the basic education that would be demonstrated by a high school diploma or a G.E.D.," says President Dr. Anthony Parker.

Bailey has now graduated with her G.E.D.--the first in her family to reach that level of education.

"It was extra hard, but I made it and I'm proud. Very proud!" says Bailey.

Bailey is now enrolled at Albany Technical College. She's set to graduate next semester with a degree in criminal justice. And she says now, she's looking forward to what the future may holdâ|and it looks like that future includes more school.

"I want to go back for my associates so I can be a juvenile probation officer," says Bailey.

She now counts herself among the many others who have found success through the Family Literacy Connection.

"It's just a place where you feel very warm in your heart because you see lives that are changed and people that get started in a different direction find success for themselves and their children," says Bamford.

And bailey has a message for her siblings and others thinking of dropping out of high school.

"Stay in school. I should have did it because getting your G.E.D. is harder than staying in school."

To contact Strive 2 Thrive, you can call their office at 229-317-7175 or visit

To contact the Dougherty County Family Literacy Council, Inc., call 229-888-2414 or visit

You can check out Albany Technical College's adult literacy program by visiting this website.