Country music’s “Redneck Woman” Gretchen Wilson is hitting the books – to graduate high school.
The Pocahontas, Ill., native, 33, who – despite grades of As and Bs – was forced by financial circumstances to drop out of ninth grade at 15, plans to take the General Educational Development test by the end of summer and claim her long overdue diploma, she tells PEOPLE in its new issue.
“All my life, I just felt that I should have finished my education,” says Wilson, who, besides boning up on geometry and algebra is hitting the road to promote her third album, One of the Boys.
Wilson’s biggest motivation? Her 6-year-old daughter Grace. “When she gets to that point and has trouble with algebra, I want to be able to say, ‘Let Mommy help you,’ ” says Wilson, who grew up in a trailer park and worked as a bartender while still a teen. “I don’t want to be ignorant in my daughter’s eyes.”
Joined by her cousin Matt Simmons, 20, who dropped out of school his senior year, Wilson headed to Adult Learning Center near her home in Lebanon, Tenn., where together they took an assessment test to determine how much they needed to prepare for the 7 -hour GED.
The prep exam was Wilson’s first test in nearly two decades. “I remembered those little bubbles,” she says. “I hated those little bubble tests!”
In her personal life, Wilson seems to have hit on a formula for happiness. “I’ve found some sort of inner peace,” she says. “I’m 100 percent comfortable in my own skin today.”
She attributes her serenity in part to learning to live without a man. (She split from Grace’s dad, Mike Penner, in 2005, though she says they remain “great friends.”)
“I’ve always been the kind of woman who had a man in her life even when he was the wrong man,” she says. More recently she says she has found a Mr. Right who can handle her independence. She guards his identity, saying only that he manages a bar in Nashville and used to play arena football.
But her first priority is Grace, who lives with her on a 380-acre horse farm amid a community of Wilson kin transplanted from Pocahontas. Her home is a relatively modest 3,500-sq.-ft. log cabin. “I didn t move into some 20,000-sq.-ft. mansion,” she says. “I still fit in with the hillbillies!”
For more on Gretchen and the GED, including her offer to play a prom, pick up this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.