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Monday, April 14, 2014

Race to a Brighter Future

Lives Change @ Fairfax County Public Library: What can we do for you?

FCPL Customer Benigno Pleitez
When Falls Church resident Benigno Pleitez lost his job of 17 years in 2012, he knew that obtaining a General Education Diploma (GED) would dramatically increase his employment opportunities. He found a powerful partner to help him achieve his goal - the Thomas Jefferson branch of Fairfax County Public Library.

Taking the 7.5 hour GED is challenging no matter what your circumstance; passing it in a second language is daunting. Pleitez, originally from El Salvador, faced an additional obstacle: the GED test was due to be reformatted in January 2014. If Pleitez did not pass all five sections of the test before the end of December 2013, he would have to start from the very beginning in 2014 and retake the entire test. Not only would all of his previous pretest scores be invalid, but the new test would be much more expensive. While Pleitez was enrolled in GED classes through Fairfax County Public Schools, he knew he needed additional support to finish on time.

Pleitez turned to his local library for help. The personal connections he made there were critical in his GED preparation. Staff members at the library were able to steer him to a wide variety of resources inside and outside of the library. Pleitez attended three different Practice Your English groups each week and also met with computer tutors to hone his technology skills. Pleitez found these sessions invaluable. He comments that his tutor Onzell Kidd, who helped him master fractions and a variety of other subjects, was “not just a tutor, but a mentor.”

Pleitez's preparation included use of a variety of technology resources, in addition to the library's collection of GED test preparation books. Pleitez did not have a computer at home but needed to be able to connect to his school website to complete assignments. Internet access computers, available for free to library card holders in all Fairfax County Public Library branches, allowed Pleitez to prepare for his test and practice basic computer skills. Online library resources, such as LearningExpress Library, provided him with additional prep and testing materials.

With only two weeks left before the New Year, Pleitez took the GED test and came up a mere ten points short. Instead of giving up, he threw himself back into his studies and turned to the library for one last critical piece of support. With the help of branch manager Barbara Peters, he located a test site in Arlington. After a practice drive to the building the previous night, Pleitez took the exam the morning of December 28th. When he returned to the library to check his scores online, he was thrilled to learn he had passed!

Pleitez is now enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College and plans to pursue a degree in automotive technology. While credit for Pleitez’s success rests squarely on his own hard work and determination, the staff at Thomas Jefferson was excited to be a part of his journey. As Robert McCartney noted in the March 29th Washington Post article, the new GED test format makes it more difficult for adults to gain high school certification. The wide variety of resources the library offers in its 23 branches and outreach programs are critical in helping community members like Pleitez achieve their goals.

-Susan Ranieri, Thomas Jefferson Library & Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Have a library story to share? Let us know in the comments or send us an email!

The post is part of an ongoing series examining the library lives of Fairfax County residents as part of a celebration of the American Library Association’s National Library Week.

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