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“I was 14 years old when I dropped out of school because I was pregnant. I am from a single parent household. My mom couldn’t afford to take care of me, so I had to get a job.”

As Ms. Gillespie* reflects on her past, she reflects on a life that wasn’t too easy for a young woman with an uncertain future. However, the reason Ms. Gillespie came in to be interviewed for the Learn to Read newsletter was to share her some really, really good news with us; Ms. Gillespie recently studied for and passed the exam to become a Level 2 Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA II). She was immediately promoted to a better-paying position as a supervisor at her job.

Ms. Gillespie told us more about her life as a hard-working, driven woman from Jamaica who came to America:

“I ended up in a small town (in Jamaica). I worked my way up, then started my own bar and restaurant business. After a while, I wanted to come to America. I went to the embassy, but didn’t get my visa. I tried for 10 years. Finally, the ambassador asked why I wanted to go to America. I said I wanted to know what the world was like, and I wanted to work for a better life. I was finally granted permission to go to America.

When I got to America, I realized that this was the place for me. It was a dream come true. I got a job up in the state of New York and started to work. I was so happy! I told myself that this was a country of opportunity. I went to school up in New York and started English and literature classes. Then, things changed.
I got married. I got divorced. After two semesters, I dropped out of school. I decided to relocate to Florida and go back to school.
I went to my first reading class in Orange Park but then dropped out because I wasn’t able to keep up. I kept searching and found FSCJ (Florida State College at Jacksonville). I took the TABE test there, but didn’t pass. I held out for a while, and then decided to go back. I was referred to the reading classes at the library. This time, I decided that I was not going to drop out. I want to be a nurse; that is my goal.”

Ms. Gillespie began to study for the CNA II exam. At 62 years old, she knew she had the experience it took to do the job.

“I am now a Level 2 CNA. I’ve noticed that since I’ve started this (Learn to Read) class, my skills have improved greatly. This class helped me get a promotion at my job. I had to study from seven chapters of a Level 2 CNA book, and then pass a written test. I passed the first time I tried it. My bosses now encourage me to try to become an LNP. They say that, because of my qualifications, they have resources they can help me with.”

We asked Ms. Gillespie what she likes about the LTR small group class format.

“I don’t like a lot of people around me. It makes me nervous. Being in the small group is like being with family. Reading aloud has made me very uncomfortable in the past because of my pronunciation. I am scared of reading and it not sounding the way it should sound, but I am very comfortable in the small group class. Coming to class helps me concentrate better. I learn different words I didn’t know before.”

Any advice for other adult students, Ms. Gillespie?

“If you need something, don’t back down. Just go for it. If you fall, pick yourself up and rise again. It will pay off in the future. Doing this class is like trying to hit a target on the wall (here, Ms. Gillespie motions as if she is throwing a dart). You try to hit the target. You miss the bullseye. But you keep trying. It will pay off!”

*student name changed for protection.