Seeds of Literacy submitted the following slightly edited account when nominating student Desire M. Barb for the Award for Learner Excellence. It has been edited.
When Desire Barb first enrolled at Seeds of Literacy, in Cleveland, Ohio, she was reading just below an eighth-grade level. She was uncertain about working with the tutors and unaccustomed to the encouragement she received from staff. With the birth of each of her five children, she would take time off from her studies and lose some of the academic progress she had made. It took a pandemic to harden her resolve.
From reading at an eighth-grade level and working exclusively with pencil and paper, to conducting all her studies, tests, and college enrollment online, Desire has come a long way. On her third attempt at math—her final GED test subject—she passed with one point to spare.
Desire faced many obstacles on her journey to obtain her GED credential. She dropped out of high school during what she calls her “second year of ninth grade” to help at home with her sister’s infant. By 16, she was working full time and attending a Life Skills program as her only education until she aged out at 21. Pregnant with her first child, she knew she had to get her GED and enrolled at Seeds for one-to-one tutoring.
Pre-pandemic, Desire balanced schoolwork with a job and volunteering at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, where her oldest children attended school. She regularly participated in conferences and events, assisted teachers, and monitored recess. Volunteering at the schools was beneficial because it provided her with library time to study and kept her close to her children.
Since passing the final GED test and earning her credential, she is paying it forward by spreading awareness about low literacy rates in adults.
Desire’s journey to the GED took from 2013 until 2021. But during those eight years, she helped family members with their children, had five of her own, worked many jobs, and spent hours on public transportation. She has a great support system, but not a lot of help outside of Seeds. Still, she did it—and incredibly—during a global pandemic.
Desire was awarded the Ruth J. Colvin and Frank C. Laubach Award for Adult Learner Excellence at the ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Literacy this past October. ProLiteracy gives this award to recognize the accomplishments of an outstanding learner.
She is now enrolled in college and still works with Seeds tutors as she studies for her math placement test.
“I’m going to keep shooting for the stars,” she said.