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East Texas Book Fest 2014

Accelerating Success: Barbara’s Story

Barbara Merritt Certified Nurse Aide 2013 GED Graduate Picture courtesy of The Women’s Fund

Barbara Merritt
Certified Nurse Aide
2013 GED Graduate
Picture courtesy of The Women’s Fund

A single mom of two, Barbara Merritt, always put her kids’ needs first. Focusing on her education was never a priority, especially since she never had any trouble finding work. That was until the recession hit. She quickly found out that employers wanted people with at least a high school diploma or a GED. Barbara admits she wasn’t ready or even motivated to go back to school, but knew she had to make a change. She said with God leading her steps, she decided to tackle getting her GED.

When Barbara tested at Literacy Council of Tyler, her reading scores placed her in the Accelerated course. She worked hard. Although it was tough, she finished in six weeks. But like most of LCOT students, Barbara had a tough time with math. She had passed all of her subject areas on the GED but was one test away from finishing because of math. Math is not one of those subjects that with a little practice you pick up where you left off in high school. Barbara did not give up. She studied at home, came to tutoring and, in December of 2013, she passed her math, earning her GED.

While working on her GED, she also heard about the Dual Enrollment Program and applied for it. Through a grant Literacy Council of Tyler receives from one of its community partners, The Women’s Fund, Barbara was able to attend the 4-week nurse aide program and the interview training workshop. She never missed a day, and in one month she had her Certified Nurse Aide license. She was so excited and was able to find a job within days of completing the course. She expressed how grateful and blessed she is now to have her GED and CNA license. “I had wonderful and supportive instructors, and I am really inspired and motivated to strive for a better life for myself and my family.” Barbara is enjoying life and said she is in a comfortable place right now. She loves her job and what she is doing and is staying busy. “Life is good” she said. She doesn’t have plans to go back to school in the immediate future, but says, “There is peace in knowing that when I am ready, I know I can”.

Mother-Daughter Inspiration: Lenore & April’s Story

Lenore and April King with their GED instructor, Rich Roper. Photo by Tyler Paper staff Victor Texcucano

Lenore and April King with their GED instructor, Rich Roper.
Photo by Tyler Paper staff Victor Texcucano

Research has shown that when you educate a mother, you educate her child.  In Lenore and April King’s case, steps to educate the child led to the education of the mother.

Lenore King had been out of the work force for 10 years.  An injury in 2003 forced her to stop working. She had an eighth grade education and decided living off of her disability would have to be her life, but she wanted more for her daughter, April. So when April dropped out of school her junior year, Lenore decided to enroll her in a GED prep course. When Lenore went to Literacy Council of Tyler’s office, her intention was to sign her daughter up in a GED class. When she left that office, not only had she enrolled her daughter, she also enrolled herself!  After listening to the LCOT staff describe the program in which her daughter would be engaging, Lenore got excited not only for her daughter but also for herself.  She realized that she could do more than live off of disability, and it all would start by getting her GED. “That’s it. This is my future,” she told Rebecca Hoeffner from the Tyler Paper who interviewed her and April for a story published in the local paper.

Both mother and daughter team worked hard, soaking up all they could from the intensive six-week course in which they enrolled. April having more recent education history had a little easier time than her mother, but they stuck it out together having perfect attendance. April even enrolled in the dual enrollment program administered by LCOT in which she not only attended the intensive GED prep program but also attended a four-week basic nurse aide training course.  Lenore was also interested but was unable to enroll because of a car wreck that landed her in crutches.  But that did not stop them.  They both made it to class every day, not wanting to miss a single bit of information.

Today, both women are graduates of the intensive GED program and are proud holders of GED certificates.  Lenore commented after learning she earned her GED, “If you want something bad enough, you have to try.” As for April, having your mom attend class with you would not be a “cool” thing for most  younger students, but for April, having her mom, her support, sitting right next to her was a blessing.  Now, they are ready to enter the workforce, and April is ready to continue her education in college.  Lenore, perhaps, may get inspired again and set her sights on college as well.

Education is Power: Maria Carmen Avila’s Story

“I never thought I would be learning how to use the computer.” - Maria Carmen Avila

“I never thought I would be learning how to use the computer.” – Maria Carmen Avila

Maria Carmen Avila moved to the United States when she was 18 years old to live with her father. She soon grew homesick and moved back to Mexico. She returned to the United States when she was 22 with her two sisters, determined to stay. Carmen came with the sole purpose to work and help take care of her family. She had a 10th grade education, and going back to school was not even a remote goal for her.

She quickly started working 16 hours a day at two different jobs making minimum wage. The only time she was not working was when she started a family with her husband, and even then, she worked right up to the day before giving birth to her son. They expanded their family to four children, and each time Carmen went back to work.  One day, a friend of her husband was talking about free classes to learn English offered at Literacy Council. Carmen thought, “Why not?”  She needed to improve her English. Her job options were limited to housekeeping and restaurant kitchen work because her speaking skills were not good enough to communicate with customers. So she took the first step.

In September of 2012, Carmen enrolled in ESL classes at Literacy Council. She was an excellent student and worked very hard to improve her conversation skills. She then heard about the Dual Enrollment Program where she could learn a skill that would help her get a better job. She was nervous, but decided to take that next step and apply for the program. She did and was accepted, and received her Nurse Aide license in April of 2013. Things just kept getting better for Carmen. The Woman’s Fund, which sponsored her tuition for CNA training, also offered its participants interview and computer training through a grant administered through LCOT. Carmen never expected to be sitting in front of a computer learning how to use it, but she was, and was learning something new every day. Her instructor started the class with a quote, “Education is power. Power is education.” She is taking that to heart.  She jokes about her daughter telling her she was too old to learn how to use the computer.  She decided to change the background and add some special effects to the family computer one day while her daughter was at school.  She sat back and watched later that afternoon as her daughter was stunned and surprised as to “who messed with my computer?!”  Carmen proudly told her, “I did, and this is our computer.”

Carmen is learning everyday how much she can do and that she is not too old to learn.  She continues to attend her ESL class, but now has a new desire for more education. With continued ESL training and improved speaking skills, she is considering taking a new step to pursue her GED.  Her dream job now is to be a nurse. Education is power!

Overcoming Language Barriers: Maria Smith’s Story

"I've accomplished in six months what I couldn't accomplish in six years."

“I’ve accomplished in six months what I couldn’t accomplish in six years.”

At the age of 16, Maria Smith found herself in a new country, in a new school, and in a new environment where no one spoke her language. As the only ESL student in her high school, options for her to communicate with her peers and her teachers were non-existent. She found herself to be “the ESL program”. Feeling frustrated and depressed, she dropped out in the 10th grade and started working.

Maria came to Winona, Texas by way of her parents in 1999 to live with her older brothers who had moved to the states years before. They requested she and her parents move so they would be closer and better able to help take care of them as they got older. This took Maria away from all that she had ever known, but gave her the hope of furthering her education in the United States and eventually fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a nurse. She recalls admiring her aunt who did missionary work as a nurse, and wanting to be just like her.

Her dream quickly faded to the background when she realized the language barrier would be a hard obstacle to overcome. So when she dropped out of school, she went to work to help support her family. She later met her husband who began to teach her English, and after having her own children and stressing the importance of education to them, she decided to go back to school herself. “I didn’t want my kids to think it was okay to drop out” she stated. Maria searched the internet and found LCOT’s website and called. “I was so excited,” she said. She was finally going back to school. She started GED classes in August of 2012 and was accepted into the dual enrollment program in September where she earned her basic nurse aide license by November of that same year. Maria was so eager to learn, and by February 2013, she had also earned her GED. In a conversation with LCOT’s executive director, Maria said, “I’ve accomplished in six months what I couldn’t accomplish in six years.” But she didn’t stop there. Maria enrolled in the Intensive College Preparation class and spent eight weeks of summer preparing to enter college. Today, Maria is a proud Tyler Junior College freshman studying to become a nurse. She talks about her kids and her future with an enormous smile, “My children say they are going to have me as their nurse when they become doctors!”she exclaims. “I am so grateful.” For Maria, she plans to complete nursing school and someday do missionary work just like her aunt.

Dreaming and Succeeding: Tabatha Mullens’s Story

“The most important thing I could to tell anybody else is to not give up.” - Tabatha Mullens

“The most important thing I could to tell anybody else is to not give up.” – Tabatha Mullens

Thinking back to her high school days does not bring back fond memories of childhood friends, and supportive teachers for Tabatha Mullens.

Her family moved around a lot, and after having negative encounters with teachers, she decided to drop out in the 10th grade.  She soon started a family and by all accounts was doing fairly well.  She got married in 2005 and had five kids. But she wasn’t happy.  She yearned to get her high school diploma and train in the medical field and establish a career.  Before she could do this, she lost her mother to illness in 2009. She took on the responsibility of raising her 14 year old brother which left little time for herself.  And so for the next two years, getting her GED had to wait.

With much hesitation, she decided to call Literacy Council of Tyler in 2011.  With plans of just getting information, she was pleasantly surprised when she was met with a friendly voice on the other line who immediately signed her up for the next enrollment.  With the support of her family, she was able to start night classes in October.  Tabatha also took on the task of participating in the Dual Enrollment program in which she took Dental Assistant classes on the nights she was not in GED class. Tabatha excelled in both classes with almost perfect attendance.

Her experience of school was definitely changing.  “Mr. Jim and Mr. Leo are so nice and supportive,” she says. “I’ve learned so much from them”.

Tabatha received her Dental Assistance license in January 2013 and her GED in May 2013, right before her 29th birthday.  She currently works at a pediatric dental office in Tyler and loves what she does.  She is considering a career in dental hygiene and plans to continue her studies at Tyler Junior College in the Dental Hygiene program.  Now that she has her GED and Dental Assistant license, her job prospects are more promising.

She loves the fact that she can talk to her children about finishing school and going to college using herself as an example.

Her next goal is to get her husband back in school.

Visualizing Success

"I believe when you really set your mind to do something, you can accomplish anything.”

“I believe when you really set your mind to do something, you can accomplish anything.”

Jason dropped out of high school at a young age. Shortly thereafter, he came to Literacy Council of Tyler to obtain his GED. But the plan failed, and Jason quit the program, saying he felt like it was more important to go out and work.

The years passed and “life happened”. Jason got married and had three children – now 12, 11 and 9. It was his love for his children and desire for their success that made him reevaluate his own life’s goals.

“One of my goals for my children is for them to get an education,” said Jason. “It seemed like if it was important for them, it was a good step for me to get an education as well.”

Jason firmly believes that you can’t motivate someone else to do something that you don’t do yourself.

So, he headed back to LCOT with a new outlook and met a new group of people. For him, the timing was perfect. “I got into the hands of some really caring people and it seemed like the rest is history in the making.”

Jason enrolled in the Innovative Grant program, where he recently received his GED and Medical Administrative Assistant Certificate concurrently. He is now in the Bookkeeping and Business Management Program at Tyler Junior College working on his Associate’s Degree.

“Going back to school has given me a new lease on life,” said Jason. “At one point it seemed like I was going from one dead end job to another dead end job.”

“I had this grandioso idea when I was younger that I’d have my own business and that would be supporting me for the rest of my life. And that did work for me for a while. The more I grew into that the more I realized that an education was mandatory because the world never stays the same. It constantly evolves, and I felt like I needed to evolve with those times to be successful.”

When asked what has surprised Jason about his new academic success, he said that not much has surprised him.

“This success is actually going along with the picture that’s in my mind. I visualized this and what surprised me more than anything is that it seemed like it was effortless. Because I believe when you really set your mind to do something, you can accomplish anything.”

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