When I took my position as GED coordinator for Ashland High School at the beginning of this school year, I was excited to be in an academic environment so ostensibly serving the needs of students who were not best served in mainstream school settings. For such a seemingly homogenous community, it was encouraging to see what looked to be open-hearted, good-willed support being provided for a student population often facing stigmatization for not fitting into the unquestionably good public school. (Hey, and it paid a guy with a master's degree 11 bucks an hour, compared to 7 an hour at my part-time job in rural Virginia last year.)

When I took my position as GED coordinator for Ashland High School at the beginning of this school year, I was excited to be in an academic environment so ostensibly serving the needs of students who were not best served in mainstream school settings. For such a seemingly homogenous community, it was encouraging to see what looked to be open-hearted, good-willed support being provided for a student population often facing stigmatization for not fitting into the unquestionably good public school. (Hey, and it paid a guy with a master's degree 11 bucks an hour, compared to 7 an hour at my part-time job in rural Virginia last year.)

It grieves me to say, at the end of the first semester, that things are not nearly as rosy as they first appeared. Members of the district staff and numerous community members have repeatedly expressed to me how troublesome, immature and low-skill GED students are or must be. Such comments are almost invariably followed by words of praise and pats on the back for the work I'm doing with them and for the incredible patience and compassion this means I must have.

Beyond seeing the special place in my heart for students traumatized and victimized by our nation's schools (as well as corporations, media and other institutions), these people's assertions are misinformed. The intelligent, talented and creative human beings I have the privilege of working with in this position are among the clearest examples of students whose schools have failed to meet their needs. For them, school tends to gravitate toward either being too inhibiting, boring and unchallenging, or too removed, belittling and stressful.

These are not maladaptive students who need to be given a stink-eye to help them shape up. They are people whose identities and capabilities have seldom been affirmed, validated or harnessed. Their want is noble: to transition from the grim way things have been to how they hope they might be if given the opportunity to actualize their potential.

Sometimes the red tape and inconvenient logistics the GED program is inextricably tied to turn these students off. Many students have had enough of the dehumanizing hoops they are told to jump through in order to make it to "the next step" in structures they neither chose to be a part of nor feel they can identify with.

I too acknowledge the system's imperfections with my own powerless headshake, but have (for now) found my niche in reaching out to these students, and those students in Ashland School District whom you may know, and saying, "This is not perfect, this is not easy, but it will help you accomplish your goals and realize your dreams. I will be here with you every step of the way doing all I can to assure your success." To have this role in others' lives is one of the most pleasurable experiences I have ever had.

Jenoge Khatter is an employee of the Ashland School District who has lived in Ashland for four months.