Heart of a Lion

According to a  recent study, 29% of Texas students will not graduate from high school*.  At only 15 years old, Maria Macedo quit school and became a statistic. Now ten years later, Maria’s life is back on track thanks to her incredible determination.  

When Maria Macedo was in the ninth grade, her boyfriend convinced her to drop out of school.  “I don’t know what I was thinking,” she tells us. “I was fifteen years old and he was fourteen. I was being rebellious, I guess.”

A breakup with the abusive boyfriend and several years of dead end jobs convinced Maria that she wanted more from life. “Little by little, I realized that my life wasn’t going anywhere.”

When Maria came to Literacy Council of Tyler, she was matched with Tutor Gail Knight. After about a year, Maria took the GED and passed all sections, except math. She and Gail continued to work on math for a few months, and then Maria took the math section again. And failed again. So she came back for more tutoring and took that section again. And failed a third time.

Gail, Maria’s tutor went to talk to Rick Swain, a LCOT teacher. Gail didn’t have the heart to call Maria to tell her the results. “I don’t know what else I can do,” Gail told Rick. “She knows the material.”  So, Rick called Maria and broke the bad news. While on the phone, however, he made Maria a promise. “If you’ll come in and work with me,” he told her, “I can get you to where you can pass that test.”

Although she was devastated by the third failure, Maria told Rick she would give it one more try. When she and Rick started to work together it became obvious that although Maria obviously struggled with math, her main problem was test taking strategies.  So that’s what they began to address. Maria talks about showing up for a tutoring session once with braces on both arms. “I had carpel tunnel,” she says. “I couldn’t even hold a pencil. Mr. Rick told me to go home, but I wanted to stay and work—I was so ready to get finished.” When asked if she did stay, Maria laughs. “No. He made me go home. But once the braces came off I came back.”

Her persistence paid off. Finally, on her fourth attempt, Maria took and passed the Math section.

The future is looking up for Maria. She has a good job now working at Catholic Charities.  “I answer the phone and can translate,” she tells us. “Since I have some experience with living in a domestic abuse situation, it makes it easier for the clients to talk to me.”

At 25 years old, Maria’s life is back on track. Now that she has her GED, she’s planning to attend TJC. In fact she’s signed up for the Literacy Council of Tyler’s College Prep class this June where she’ll be working with Rick Swain again. “Mr. Rick told me that I was the kind of person he wanted in his class—the kind of person who won’t give up.”  She grins when she tells us, “Mr. Rick told me that I have the heart of a lion.”

 * 2009 study by Intercultural Development Research Association.

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