She May Have Quit School But She Didn’t Quit Life

Side-by-Side with the Dollar General Student of the Year

Since joining ProLiteracy as the membership manager in February, I have had the opportunity to meet people all over the country who make our member programs so vital. Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting adult learner Ashlea Tedford at the ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Literacy in Minnesota when she received the 2017 Dollar General Student of the Year award.

After a long day of conference events, Ashlea and I were able to get to know each other a little over drinks and some appetizers. Our marketing team had just interviewed her for a video in which she discussed her journey as an adult learner. Inspired by her candidness in the interview, I asked her to elaborate on her decision to drop out of high school. She described an upbringing that seemed somewhat unstable and she moved between her parents’ and her grandparents’ homes more than once. This led to her falling so far behind in school that she decided to drop out rather than double her course load and attend summer classes for the next three years.

I could understand how discouraging it must have been to have to choose between two imperfect options. I am sure many people have found themselves in similar circumstances at some point in their lives. People choose what they think is the best option at the time—the lesser of two evils in many cases—and absorb the consequences, good and bad. 

 Ashlea’s Path to Earning her GED

Ashlea and I discovered we share a similar worldview in that we both believe we are not defined by one moment, or choice, but rather all of our life choices and where we ultimately land. Ashlea may have quit school, but she didn’t quit life. She moved forward and continued to make the best choices she could for herself and, eventually, for her two children. In fact, it was thinking about her children’s futures that inspired her to acquire a high school equivalency diploma from Region 9 ESC Adult Education and Literacy in Wichita Falls, Texas. Ashlea’s achievement led to a terrific job she loves and a home with family members who can provide some of the critical support single working-moms need.

A Workforce Inspiration

Hearing Ashlea speak about her job as a cashier at Staples© and how much she loves it is inspiring. She approaches her work with great commitment and dedication. She said she is the last person the customer sees when they are leaving, so she is in a position to influence that customer’s perception of the store and shopping experience. Ashlea wants customers to leave satisfied and happy, and she will do what is needed to make that happen, whether it’s helping them locate a product or providing a friendly smile to brighten their day. She also said she is always trying to learn more—where certain products are located or how to operate the cash register more efficiently—so she can be of greater service. Many companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on programs designed to instill in their employees the dedication and outlook Ashlea already possesses.

The Name Calling 

Ashlea also shared another personal struggle with me concerning body image and how strangers have called her “fat.” I was shocked when she told me this. Yet, I know we live in a culture that is obsessed with physical appearances and celebrates people who model physical perfection and beauty even if they are completely lacking in any other redeeming qualities. Many people would never dream of publicly mocking someone because of his/her ethnicity, race, or physical disability, yet they believe it is acceptable to openly ridicule people who are large or overweight. 

Ashlea is clearly bothered when others make these remarks. And then she mentioned she has a son who sometimes struggles with maintaining a healthy weight, and so she has become very conscious of how she talks about her own body and weight in his presence. Again, in another difficult situation, her children serve as her inspiration and her “anchors.” 

The Support of Others Can Set You Free

The discussion about body image and using the word “fat” as an insult reminded me of how often we hear from adult learners who dropped out of school because they were put down and told they were “stupid.” How many of these individuals might have been able to persevere and obtain their high school diplomas if they had been provided with the right emotional support and encouragement? Fortunately, ProLiteracy, our member programs, and our generous supporters like Dollar General, are dedicated to helping these individuals get the skills they need to advance.

I am sorry Ashlea’s family wasn’t able to see her receive her award in person. Her mom was so excited for her she reached out to ask if we might be able to “videotape” the ceremony. While we weren’t able to record the presentation, we took several terrific photos of Ashlea with Dollar General representative Lindsey Sublett. And, you can view our interview with Ashlea below.

People work in the literacy field for a variety of reasons. Many do so because we know there are more Ashleas out there who have the drive and will to improve their lives by increasing their literacy skills. They just need some help accessing the right tools to do it.

I am grateful I met Ashlea and I can’t wait to meet more inspiring adult learners like her! 


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