Education Opinion

Here’s to Sylvia

By Jessica Shyu — May 21, 2008 3 min read
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The achievement gap is everywhere. This one is to the whole village being a part of the solution. This one’s to the Sylvia’s one of the world, inspiring, pushing, and making it possible for people in real situations to get the access they need to better lives. And, as always, this is to the folks out there making it possible for themselves.

It was 102 degrees at 12:52 pm and the warehouse smelled like a warm, musty mix of wood, dust and oranges. Even though it was 8 minutes to their closing time, the young woman manning the register cheerfully helped me fill my sacks of oranges and grapefruit. As she waited patiently for me to nitpick through the slightly bruised (but incredibly delicious) fruit we started talking about my work with teachers and the local high school sports teams.

Then I asked her if she was still in school, either high school or college. Her big grin dropped for a moment and a wistful look crossed her face, replaced instantly with a smile. No, she said, she had to drop out in 11th grade, but when she was there, she got really good grades, all A’s and B’s. But she decided she needed to stop because she needed to help her family with money, and she was staying up late working all night anyway and sleeping her way through class-- it didn’t seem like it was worth it. So she dropped out. But yeah. Looking back now, it would have been nice if she could finish. And her grades were really good too...

I told her I was really sorry to hear that had to happen-- I had students in that situation who had to make tough decisions too. What school did she go to? And would she want to return to school?

Yes, she would, she would love to go back. But right now, you know, with money and stuff, there’s always work to do and to take care of her kids and husband. There’s so much. But, she did check out a program recently that helps people get their GED and develop a vocational skill like child development or becoming a nursing assistant.

As soon as she mentioned this program, her eyes lit up. We were leaned over against the register counter just talking as the other warehouse workers were looking our way, trying to cover up the fruit to close down. But she kept talking about this fantastic local program that helped high school dropouts get their degrees and train for more skilled jobs. They even offered childcare service for when students are in GED classes, and sometimes you can earn a scholarship that will help cover your books and help earn your gas money to get to the course.

That sounds like an amazing opportunity, I exclaimed. Have you signed up? Are you going to do it? She shook her head maybe, that at first she didn’t think she had the time, the money to do it before she could get a scholarship, and she still needed to work. But she really wanted to and was going to try her best to find a way to make it happen.

Before recently, she was really unsure and didn’t think it would be possible, but after talking to Sylvia, the woman who ran the center, she wanted to make it happen no matter what so she didn’t have to keep working at the fruit warehouse. Sylvia was really great, she explained. Sylvia made her realize she really could get her GED and get a better life through the vo-tech school.

We stood there talking by the counter until her boss walked by and gave her a look that made her hurry to ring me up. Before I left, I gave her my business card, grabbed her hands and told her best of luck, and that even though it will be a struggle, with her hard work and perseverance, she could make it happen. She looked at the card and smiled broadly. Thank you, she said, no one had ever told her that before.

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.