By Shelley Hill Young
It was their mothers who ultimately inspired them to walk through the doors of the Trident Literacy Association to get their GEDs. And their children.
Amanda Failey and America Martinez each wanted to secure more opportunities than their mothers had, and they each wanted their children to have brighter futures.
Like many students who complete Trident Literacy Association’s programs, Amanda and America each overcame obstacles in order to walk across the stage last month and be recognized for earning their GEDs at the literacy association’s annual achievement ceremony.
More than 80,000 adults in the tri-county area do not have high school credentials, according to estimates provided by the literacy association. Trident works to reduce those numbers by offering GED-prep classes, English as second language classes, career readiness credentials that measure real-world skills, and computer literacy to about 1,000 students each year. The goal is to help adults reverse the cycle of generational poverty and illiteracy by teaching vital life skills. Students are asked to pay $5 a month and attend a minimum of 10 hours a week, but the fee is waived for those who cannot afford it. The classes are taught by a team of more than 200 volunteers. Trident Literacy Association has been recognized for five years in a row by the South Carolina Department of Adult Education for exceeding state standards set by the South Carolina Department of Adult Education.
Amanda moved around a lot as a child and had a difficult relationship with her mother. There wasn’t much stability. By the time she was a sophomore in high school in Berkeley County, she thought she knew everything she needed to know. She didn’t return to finish high school and get her degree.
She didn’t tell her first husband that she didn’t graduate from high school. After the divorce, she was able to find a job as a receptionist at a private business that didn’t look into her background. She worked there for four years, getting promoted to accounts receivable.
She later remarried, moved to Charleston and got pregnant. When her youngest turned 4 and was ready for pre-K, she wanted to find a job that would provide a good income, more than minimum wage. Her mother had passed away three years earlier from an overdose. She didn’t have a job or life insurance. Amanda didn’t want to be in the same position as her mother. She wanted to be able to provide for herself, her three children and her step-daughter.
“It was a big wake-up call when my mom passed away,” Amanda says. “I didn’t want my kids to have to worry about that.”
She eventually told her secret to her husband, who encouraged her to get her GED, or general equivalency degree. But she kept her secret from her children, saying she felt if they ever knew that she didn’t get her degree, they would want to be like her and drop out of school. So she went to GED-prep classes after she dropped her youngest son off at day care and she studied for the test after the kids went to bed at night.
Amanda was determined to pass the series of four tests quickly. But three weeks into classes, she fell and broke her knee cap. She continued to walk on her broken leg for three weeks, ignoring the pain. When she finally saw an orthopedist, she had to get a cast from her hip to her toes.
“All I thought was, ‘How am I going to get to school?’” she says.
But she did. She found a ride to and from class. “I went to school no matter how much pain I was in,” she says.
She started taking classes at the Goose Creek location in August and had passed all the tests by November. When she received her diploma in the mail, “it was the best feeling in the world.” Now, she’s enrolled in Trident Technical College and hopes to one day be a sign language interpreter. And she told her children the truth. “I always tell them, ‘Believe in yourself.’” Now, she believes it.
America was 18 when she moved to the United States to live with her mother. She had graduated from high school in Mexico, and she was too old to enroll in high school in the United States. She says she pushed herself even though she couldn’t enroll in school. She learned to speak English by watching her favorite TV show, “Friends,” which she had watched in Mexico with Spanish subtitles. Now, she rewatched the episodes with English subtitles.
America started and stopped taking GED preparation classes several times and finally committed to completing the tests, in part because she wanted to help her children, ages 11 and 13, with their school work and encourage them to continue their educations.
“How am I going to tell my kids, ‘You got to go to college’ and I didn’t do it?” America says.
She also wanted her GED to make her own mother proud. She says her mother believes that “education is everything” and she has always been disappointed that she couldn’t provide a complete education for her daughter. Last month, she visited Charleston to watch her daughter be recognized for earning her GED.
And America wanted her GED because she doesn’t want to miss out on the opportunities that are available to her in this country. She is enrolled in the baking and pastry program at Trident Technical College. Her American dream, she says – smiling at the play on her name – is to open a bakery where people from other countries can find cakes that they miss from their homes. She’s known for her tres leches cake.
America has her green card and hopes that her GED might help her when she applies for citizenship.
“For a long time, I didn’t think of me. I was a mom. The future was blank,” she says. “Once you have a green card, you start dreaming. Oh, my gosh, you have the key. Let me open the door.”
She took the first steps through that door and across a stage last month.
To volunteer or make a donation, visit tridentlit.org.