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.