Scruggs Helps Burns UMC Put Computers in Hands of GED Test-Takers

Dick Scruggs and Rev. Chris Diggs, of Burns United Methodist Church, discuss the new Mac computers that Scruggs donated to the church.
Dick Scruggs and Rev. Chris Diggs, of Burns United Methodist Church, discuss the new Mac computers that Scruggs donated to the church.

The GED program at Burns United Methodist Church gives test-takers a chance at a new beginning, and it recently received a fresh start of its own with brand-new Mac computers.

The GED Testing Service ended paper testing in January, so test takers without the working knowledge of a computer have an extra hurdle to overcome: they can’t pass the test, even if they know the material.

Last week, Burns started GED computer classes using six Macbook Pros, two Mac desktops and one iPad, according to Rev. Chris Diggs. The class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9 p.m.

Burns United Methodist Church has unofficially been providing GED tutoring to people in the community for years, but until the recent gift from sponsor Richard “Dick” Scruggs, the program didn’t have computers for students’ use.

Barbara Worthum, a lifelong Burns UMC member who has served as the church’s go-to expert in preparing students for the GED, provides tutoring anytime someone asks for help.

She said the major roadblock for most students is fear.

“Fear of not being successful. Fear of ‘I don’t know very much.’ Fear of people will look down on me,” she said.

Diggs came to Burns in June, and at his urging, he and Worthum are striving to spread the now-official mission to a communitywide service. Anyone who wants to finish a GED is welcome at the church for tutoring, and Diggs said that most students are not members of the church.

“We try to reach out to the community and help any way we can,” he said.

Using the new computers, students study using online programs including Grammar Bytes, GED.com and GED for Free.

GED instructor Barbara Worthum starts up one of the new Burns UMC computers.
GED instructor Barbara Worthum starts up one of the new Burns UMC computers.

Worthum’s students range in age from 18 years old to 56, with some needing just a few months of help to a year of tutoring. One student in her 50s recently signed up for her first email address.

“I was surprised that some of them knew nothing about the computer,” Worthum said.

Worthum works as a GED teacher and EdOptions instructor at the Oxford Learning Center; EdOptions allows students to return to school to make up a few credits and graduate. When she is off work in the summers, she offers extra hours of instruction to students at Burns. She and other volunteers provide tutoring outside of the Tuesday/Thursday class days, to help students with basic knowledge.

“We like to pair them with a tutor during the week on whatever they’re having trouble on,” she said.

The Burns GED program is always looking for tutors, Worthum added, and would appreciate any help community members can offer.

The gift of computers is also a new beginning for Scruggs.

Scruggs most recently spent six years in prison, and is now spending the last year of a bribery conviction on home confinement. He is an Oxford resident well known for his work as a trial lawyer, including a successful lawsuit against the asbestos industry that he brought on behalf of sick shipyard workers.

Scruggs was introduced to Diggs, and believing in his mission to revitalize the church, decided to invest money to further his own mission to help with adult education.

“The computers, at that particular church where a lot of GED instruction was being given, help my agenda to get more people through the GED program,” Scruggs said. “And it helps the church with people who want to better themselves.”

During his time in prison, Scruggs taught GED classes to inmates, many of whom were dropouts. For now, his efforts with adult education are local, but he plans to get involved in the statewide effort to increase adult education. Much of that push is to add GED teachers and emphasize computer literacy for test-takers.

Worthum started down the path to her own present job by chance, when a cousin working with her at the University of Mississippi invited her along to a job fair in Holly Springs, where the new prison was looking for teachers. Since then, she’s taught GED classes there, at the Job Corps, and in Panola and now the Oxford School District for 11 years.

“God opens a door for you; you just have to walk through it,” she said.

– Gretchen Stone is HottyToddy.com associate editor. Gretchen can be contacted about this story at Gretchen.Stone@HottyToddy.com

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