- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 4, 2016

QUINCY, Ill. (AP) - Ella Epperson and her dad, Gerad, make a good team — especially when it comes to attending classes at John Wood Community College.

“I know things he doesn’t. He knows things I don’t,” Ella said. “He’s a little better at the book work. I’m better at the other stuff. It makes things really easy.”

They share books for classes, encourage each other, and if one has to miss a class, the other makes sure to take good notes.

“I didn’t think it was weird that we went to school together until the teachers started saying it,” said Ella, who hopes to study clinical psychology.

“I’ve had mother-daughter and husband-wife, but this is the first father-daughter team I’ve ever had an opportunity to teach,” said David Palmer, a languages, literature and humanities professor at JWCC. “I’ve been here, if you count my part-time work, 26 years.”

But Ella said it just makes sense for the pair.

“Everybody’s always like, ‘You go to school with your dad in all the same classes,’ but I love it,” said Ella, who works part time at Children’s Place and attends JWCC part time.

Palmer wishes he had more students like the father-daughter pair.

“They complement each other quite well. They’re good support for each other and really seem to be dedicated to pursuing academic careers,” he said. “They want to really succeed, and they are succeeding.”

But college wasn’t initially on the radar for either one.

Gerad, who became a father at an early age, basically had a 10th-grade education. A placement test for JWCC offered some encouragement, and so did help available through the school.

“I wish I’d done it 20 years ago,” he said. “If you think there’s even a slight chance you might want to do it, you need to jump in. There’s nothing to fear. This place will work with you to get you through anything.”

Ella struggled in the traditional classroom and found success, thanks to the Adams County Regional Safe Schools program, and she graduated from Quincy High School in June. She’d already decided to attend JWCC, and a First Year Experience class offered by JWCC during her senior year in the Regional Safe Schools program provided even more encouragement, along with so-called soft skills such as writing resumes and filling out job applications.

“I thought I’d be far behind, and some things I probably could have known better when I started, but it’s been a whole lot easier academically than I thought it would be,” said Ella, who hopes to major in clinical psychology.

She had a head start when Gerad enrolled in summer school after she persuaded him to try JWCC.

“I wasn’t going to take summer school, but he liked his religion class, so I jumped in two weeks late,” she said.

The condensed summer courses kept both busy but convinced them they were moving in the right direction.

“I passed history for the first time,” said Gerad, who is “good with numbers” and hopes to be an accountant.

Along the way, they’ve tapped into a variety of services offered by JWCC — including federal and state grants, and scholarship opportunities — to help traditional and nontraditional students.

The goal is retention, graduation, transfer and even employment for students, said Alisa Cameron, manager of the federal TRiO student support services program, which provides free help to eligible students, and different areas of the college work together to meet student needs.

“Because we’re smaller, we have more accessibility to people and things — and a willingness to do it,” Cameron said.

“I’m just now starting to grasp all the stuff John Wood has to offer,” Gerad said. “We jumped in head first not knowing what we were doing.”

Struggling with his day job and being a full-time student during the summer, Gerad was hired by the college’s work-study program for the physical plant department — and he appreciates the encouragement the college provided.

“They talked up my placement test so highly, it made me feel like I could accomplish anything,” he said. “I decided to grab the hardest two classes first, history and religion, to get them out of the way. I got a B-plus in one and a B in the other.”

Ella hopes her story — and her dad’s — can help inspire others.

“There’s not necessarily anybody who’s not college material,” she said. “Nobody goes for the same things. You can make your college experience around what you know and don’t know.”

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Source: The Quincy Herald Whig, http://bit.ly/2dnzSwE

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Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig, http://www.whig.com

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