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Trina Wallace recently celebrated 30 years of teaching at the Thorn Hill Education Center. (Linda Younkin/State Journal)

Trina Wallace began her career teaching those who were just starting their educational journey.

For the past 30 years she’s been teaching those who are reaching the finish line.

Wallace recently celebrated 30 years as a teacher at Thorn Hill Education Center, which offers people a chance to earn their GED for free.

“Thorn Hill kind of gets to you,” Wallace said about her longevity. “It’s more than a job, and anyone who’s worked here will tell you that. It’s more like family here. The main reason I’ve stayed 30 years is I like what I do, the people I work with and the students.”

Wallace taught kindergarten in Hazard and three years in the Franklin County Schools district before going to work at Thorn Hill.

Wallace is a graduate of Franklin County High School. She earned her undergraduate degree at Eastern Kentucky and her master’s degree at Georgetown College.

She and her husband, Bill, have been married 39 years, and they have a daughter, a son and a grandson.

“I started here when it was an adult high school two nights a week, and it just went from there,” Wallace said. “I’m the last one Lillian Nunnelly, who started this place, hired that’s still here.

“It’s a different day every day, and you never know who’s going to walk through the door. That’s the hardest step for them, taking that first step to come in.”

Thorn Hill has classes Monday through Thursday during the day and stays open until 7 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. On Friday the center is open for testing and by appointment only, and there are Saturday classes every other week.

Thorn Hill also offers college prep work, classes in English as a second language and work to teach people to read or improve their reading skills.

Wallace worked with the WIN (Whatever Is Needed) program, which ended in 2017, for 22 years.

“I think the biggest challenge is meeting the students’ needs,” she said of her job. “We had the WIN program, for 22 years, geared toward young adults between 18-24.

“Each student has a different story, and we try to do what is needed to make that student successful.”

Those attempting to earn a GED must pass a test in each of four subjects — math, science, social studies and reasoning through language arts. The test for reasoning through language arts assesses reading comprehension and how to write clearly.

“I do a lot of math,” Wallace said. “That’s my strongest subject. With the others, I’ll tell students, ‘this isn’t my strongest subject either, but we’ll work on it together.’”

Switching from teaching youngsters to teaching adults hasn’t been a problem for Wallace.

“I love working with adults,” she said. “I worked with juveniles at the jail for awhile and then the WIN program, and I liked that. Now I’m working wherever I’m needed. I’ve met a lot of great people.

“I’m finding more older folks are ready to get their GED for a better job or to go on to school. They’re usually a little more motivated than the younger ones. They’ve seen the need to get an education and go on.”

Wallace’s oldest student had a different reason for earning her GED.

“The oldest student I had was like 82,” Wallace said. “She wasn’t working, but she wanted to set an example for her grandchildren, and she came back and got her GED.”

And it’s seeing people achieve that milestone that Wallace says is the best part of her job.

“It’s when they finally finish and reach their goal,” she said. “Graduation day is the best day of the year to me. They’ve been told they couldn’t do that. We kind of accept that as a challenge here.”

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