Literacy Changes Lives: When Life Grew Difficult, She Didn’t Give Up
Posted by Jennifer Vecchiarelli on November 16, 2017 in categoryStudent Stories categoryWomen's Empowerment

The stories of adult learners are very inspirational as they overcome heartbreak, embarrassment, and hardship to reach their goals and create a life they thought only existed in their dreams.

A Student Story from the Anne Arundel County Literacy Council 

Since 1977, the Anne Arundel County Literacy Council (AACLC) has served adult learners across Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The nonprofit organization founded by six tutors provides one-on-one coaching in reading, writing, and spelling for adults who are not functionally literate, or who cannot efficiently speak or use the English language in their day-to-day lives. 

The AACLC’s mission is to teach adults and out-of-school youth the skills they need to live happy, fulfilling lives. By teaching low-level learners basic reading, math, and English language skills, they can gain the self-esteem and independence needed to support their families, and become active, contributing members in their communities. As long as students don’t give up, AACLC’s volunteers commit to their successes.

Jessica Fumando is one of those students. From being a child in foster care, leaving school at a young age, and struggling to earn an accredited diploma, she never gave up. Here is Jess’s story. 

Since April, Jessica has been training twice a week with AACLC tutor John Carley her for the math section of the GED® test. 
Despite juggling three jobs, Jess is committed to finding time for her academic studies. Although she has faced many difficulties while working toward her high school diploma, Jess stresses “as long as you’re committed, it is possible.”

Jess’s childhood was difficult. “I grew up in foster care, in group homes, and was passed around for most of my school years. My stability ended when I was 13, so school ended for me when I was around 11 or 12 years old.” As an adult, “school was not a priority,” she said. “When I was 17 years old, I had my own apartment and I had to pay for it. Work was my priority.”

In the years that followed, Jess moved several times. She eventually made the decision to get a high school diploma and signed up for a virtual classroom. She passed all of her classes, received her diploma, and was told by the online school that she was a high school graduate.

When Jess moved to Maryland, she enrolled in classes at a local college. However, she realized that the school was not giving her all of the financial aid she expected. When she discussed the problem with college administrators, she received an unexpected shock. “They said the diploma I brought to them was not accredited. I had to go get my GED in order to receive financial aid.”

Undiscouraged, Jess passed all of her classes that semester and then set about studying for the GED test. She began attending group classes but the teaching style and group environment did not work well for her. It was at this point that Jess reached out to the Anne Arundel Literacy Council.

John is retired; a former EPA professional. He responded to an announcement in the Annapolis Capital of volunteer opportunities with the Anne Arundel County Literacy Council and took basic tutor training last October. In that training, John heard about a new program for tutoring people who needed a boost in math to get their high school equivalency diploma. He expressed interest, and early this year was trained for that program as well.

The Literacy Council shared Jess’s story with John. “I read the report of her screening interview and I was intrigued.” 

Jess has made significant progress since they started working together. “She’s moved very quickly.” John admires Jess’s mental flexibility and her openness to receiving help. “She is never defensive when she gets something wrong. She is quick to see another way of thinking about it.” 

Jess has enjoyed having John as a tutor. He has helped her get over her “huge phobia of fractions.” She also appreciates the individual attention she gets during one-on-one tutoring. “I can say specifically ‘I’m not understanding this.’” she said. “Then he can break it down for me in a different way so I’m able to understand.”

After his retirement in 2010, John sought volunteer opportunities with several charitable organizations, but never found a good fit. He relishes the independence he has as a tutor with AACLC. He has the freedom to figure out the best way to do things and to focus his lessons on Jess’s needs.

—submitted by Trevor Stern



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