The only thing that can prevent you from successfully getting your GED is you.
That’s how it is at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel anyway, according to Tina Vaitkus, Harrah’s talent development manager.
Harrah’s partners with Southwestern Community College to provide the free GED training. Southwestern pays all costs associated with the instructors, educational books, testing assessment and academic supplies.
“We have classes on site; we work with supervisors in scheduling so employees can attend class. We even provide tutors,” Vaitkus said. “So if one of our employees wants to get his GED, only his lack of effort can prevent it from happening.”
Classes are taught at the casino from 2-9 p.m. Thursdays and from 3-8 Mondays at SCC’s Cherokee Center.
One of those taking advantage of the opportunity is table games host Travis Boisclair of Sylva.
“At Harrah’s they give you the chance to move up with the corporation but you can’t if you don’t have your GED,” said Boisclair, who dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.
The 27-year-old Boisclair said he is getting his GED to further his career and to set an example for his 8-year-old son, Travis Jr.
“I want my son to know that even though you make mistakes- like I did when I dropped out of high school- that you can learn from that, said Boisclair. “Mainly what I want him to learn is don’t give up.”
Boisclair’s co-worker and fellow GED student Desmond Biddle understands that message well. Like Boisclair, he dropped out of high school in the 10th grade to work.
“I worked construction before, but now at Harrah’s I have a real chance to advance. And, I know I can’t without my GED,” said Biddle, father of four young children.
“I’ll tell you what’s the hardest part about getting your GED- and that’s walking thru the door,” summed up Biddle, who works surveillance. “Once you’ve made the decision to do it, you’ve got a whole network of people to help you.”
People like Liam Maney of Cherokee. Maney, a server at Paula Deen Restaurant, volunteers in the casino GED lab on Thursdays.
“One of the guys I work with said he would take the GED training if I’d be his mentor, so that’s what got me started,” said Maney. “I like to help other people and I like to see our employees succeed.”
Blackjack dealer Jessica Brett, of Bryson City, volunteers with the program because “education is the one thing that has afforded me freedom and financial independence.”
Brett is especially good at helping the students with reading but she also helps with math. “Sometimes with math I struggle right along with them. But they see if I screw up, it’s OK for them to screw up, too.”
SCC instructors like Jean Bockstahler are always on hand for assistance. Bockstahler, a reading and math teacher for many years, attributes much of the success of this unique GED program to its personalization.
“It’s not your traditional classroom where students are generally told what to do and how to do it,” said Bochstahler. “Here everyone operates on their own strengths and weaknesses- and at their own pace. What we provide is a place of encouragement, not judgment.”
The partnership between SCC and Harrah’s must be working because participation in the GED program has increased 75 percent, according to Vaitkus, who attributes much of that success to Harrah’s career development specialist Karina Bottchenbaugh.
“Karina works hard to let our employees know about the program. And, if they want to attend but their schedules don’t allow it, Karina works with their supervisors to reschedule shifts. She is such an advocate for the employees who want to further their education,” Vaitkus said.
“Earning your GED is a huge accomplishment. It’s a stepping stone for our employees to further their education or career. I am proud we have this amazing program,” Bottchenbaugh said of the Harrah’s/SCC partnership.
For more information, contact Karina Bottchenbaugh, Harrah’a career development specialist, at 497-8886.