“I was never a good student.”
I have dyslexia and my entire high school experience felt like a frustrating waste of time and effort. My parents were not educated and didn’t know how to help me. In my senior year, I became pregnant and that seemed like a perfect excuse to drop out. The day I dropped out felt like the best day of my life, until I watched my friends walk in their caps and gowns and graduate, and I realized I’d made a mistake. At that point, it felt like it was already too late to go back.
Life went on, my husband and I built a strong photography business, we had 3 more beautiful kids and created a happy life together. We’ve been together and loving each other for 28 years now, through many, many challenges.
When our fourth baby was born, he had incredible medical challenges that we were absolutely not prepared for. Our son had to be flown to UCSF where he stayed for months, and, of course, we stayed with him. We were guided through the whole process by an amazing social worker who helped us with housing and other resources to get us through that time. I was so grateful for her and all her help. Slowly, our son began to thrive and life returned back to normal, until…
“In 2011, two decades after we dropped out of high school, my husband decided he wanted to go back to school and get a college degree.”
I watched him study hard and I was proud, but I knew it wasn’t for me. Twenty years after dropping out of high school, I was definitely not going back to school because that would mean closing down our store-front, worrying about how we would pay our bills and feed our family. But still, he persisted.
When it was time to register for classes I was so paranoid and anxious. I hated math, I couldn’t write essays, how would I return to school? I didn’t think I could do it, but I took the first step and officially became a “re-entry” student.
Soon after I began, I discovered the Women’s Education & Leadership Institute (WELI). I applied to the cohort and was accepted, which meant that I received a $2000 scholarship, and, as part of my cohort, received mentoring and life skills training.
“The $2000 scholarship may not seem like a lot, but to me it was A LOT. It lifted the worries off my shoulders.”
Not only did the scholarship pay for my many expensive books, but it was also exactly what we needed to help pay our bills.
With the support of WELI, I worked through my school challenges. I had really good teachers at Hartnell who took the time to teach me and, with their support, I became a straight A student.
The $2000 financial support was critical, but what I really loved was meeting other women with similar issues. Other women who had dropped out of school and were moms and didn’t know how to maneuver through the education system, just like me. To this day, I am still friends with many women from the cohort. In fact, another woman from my cohort is pursuing the same master’s degree at CSUMB as I am.
“To this day, I live by the life skills training we received at WELI.”
The training taught us to look at ourselves and our needs. Self-care was something I never thought about before. I never thought about myself and what was important to me. I had to learn how to take care of myself. I had to ask, what are my strengths and skills that I can use to better help myself?
Thanks to my mentors, my life skills teachers, and the other women in my cohort, I learned to love myself.
I received a degree from Hartnell in Digital Art Design and transferred to CSUMB. But just a week before the semester was about to begin, I realized that I really wanted to do something different. I remembered the amazing support of the social worker who helped us when our son was in the hospital, as well as other support we’d had in our lives, and I realized that that was what I wanted to do with my life. With the help of my counselor I switched majors to Collaborative Health and Human Services. Today, I am pursuing my Masters of Social Work.
“My husband and I were both the first in our families to attend college.”
Now we have one son studying at Cal Poly, one at San Francisco State, one is in his 2nd year at Hartnell, and our daughter was at SJSU but is taking some time to pursue her career right now. (My husband got his film degree from CSUMB, in case you were wondering.)
I’m proud to say that my experience has inspired at least 5 friends to go back to school as well. If this high school dropout, mom of 4, grandmother of 2, can succeed in college, they can too.
And I’m so grateful to WELI for the support I received – financially, emotionally, and intellectually. The WELI program is great, it’s just great.