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*The following stories have been provided by the people involved and approved for publication*
Provo Adult Education
The two portables on the outside of Independence High school, host the Provo City School District Adult Education Program. The program isn’t very large, a few administrators and a handful of teachers, but the impact they make in their students’ lives is impressive.
Each student taking classes in the portables made a conscious decision to better their lives through education. They are people who did not graduate with their peers, but refuse to let that stop them. There are many reasons to never look back after dropping out of school, and to attend these classes is to push past every excuse and persevere for a better life.
A Culture of Educational Support
Christina Mutch (a veteran teacher of the Provo Adult Education program) will conclude her teaching career of 42 years. She looks forward to retirement with the enthusiasm of someone who has given every last ounce to her profession. After graduating from college, Mutch taught in school in South Central L.A. During the Rodney King riots she felt that she needed to move somewhere that was a little more calm. She completely uprooted herself, sacrificing her tenure, to move to Provo and restart her career.
For most of her career, Mutch has been involved in adult education programs. Seven years ago she transitioned over to teaching GED courses exclusively. For the first 20 years that she spent in the Provo School District, she looked forward to the part of her day that she got to teach the adults. She called them “a breath of fresh air.”
From her memories of teaching and the way she interacts with the students who enter the classroom, she sees the students as the main characters in each of their stories. All of the focus is on them and their lives. As a teacher, she has her students’ success stories plastered on her wall in the form of black and white printed photos. When she looks over the photos, she confides, “I’m not married, and I don’t have kids. I’ve made peace with that and I’ve never looked back, because I have 25,000 kids.”
Mutch explains that the students’ worst enemy is their self-esteem. Most of the students who walk through her door for the first time think that they are stupid. Many of them dropped out of school because they felt inadequate, which reinforced their low self-esteem. “It’s my job to show them that they aren’t,” Mutch explains.
An Environment of Dedication
Teachers like Mutch act as a guide for students who go through the program. Provo Adult Education Graduate, Saul Gonzalez, shares his story. “The Adult High School program offered something that none of the other programs had,” said Gonzalez. “Rather than handing me a packet and expecting me to self-teach, the program had trained instructors that helped me through every step of the way. When I didn’t understand a question, my teachers would help in ways that encouraged and uplifted me.”
When he was younger, he felt put down by the other students. From a very young age, Gonzalez learned to associate failures in schooling and education with physical and emotional pain. In kindergarten his father would hit him when he provided incorrect answers on his homework. As he grew older, he would find himself daydreaming in class rather than paying attention. His absent mindedness, born from the association he had with learning and abuse, distracted him from learning in a classroom.
A few times he remembers raising enough courage to ask a question to the teacher, only to hear his classmates snicker in response. He felt ridiculed, which caused him to retreat back into his shell of inner personal safety.
These feelings aren’t unusual to the high school dropouts that choose to go back through the Provo Adult Education Program. Many of the students have the same themes of abuse and low self image and worth that caused themselves to give up on the schooling process when they were younger.
For Gonzalez, the social aspects of high school got him as far as his senior year, where he ultimately dropped out due to his low grades. For many people, that would be the end of their association with education, but Gonzalez persevered. Over the next ten years he saw the difference education made in the lives of his colleagues and friends. He decided to earn his GED and use it to better his life.
He studied, took the test, and failed. Determined to succeed, he studied again, harder. He took the test again, and failed another time. With one last push, his attempt met the same fate. Unable to make a fourth attempt within a six month window, he felt defeated.
Some time later, Gonzalez found himself in Utah. After moving and getting adjusted, he found himself ready to climb the same mountain that he had failed to summit with his last three attempts. Many colleges in Utah offer self-study packets to pass the GED, free of charge. These packets weren’t enough for Gonzalez. “It was frustrating trying to teach myself the course material, because I didn’t know it. That’s why I was there in the first place,” Gonzalez explained. Gonzales related his experience, “In some courses, there would be a teacher present, but that teacher was more there to grade papers and make assignments, rather than lead the students through the coursework.”
Not wanting to go down the same path he had before, Gonzalez found the Provo Adult Education Program and enrolled in their GED course. Around the same time, he and his new wife had their first child. He wanted to set the best example for his son that he could, so he decided to pursue schooling once again. He made a promise to himself that he would earn his GED by the time that his child was 18.
During his time in the program, Gonzalez realized that his love of film could become a career path. He decided to also enroll in the UVU film school program that same semester. He found that his classes at college supported his classes in GED prep and vice versa.
After two semesters of hard work and perseverance, Saul completed the GED prep course. This time, when he took the test, he passed. Gonzalez is currently in his Sophomore year at UVU. He is confident and determined. Last year, he visited the program as a documentary filmmaker, featuring the Provo Adult Education Program through his camera lens.
Through the Provo Adult Education Program, Gonzalez felt uplifted and encouraged. When he visits with his old teachers, he does so as a peer and as a friend. They are happy to see the respectable and admirable person he has become.
A Program for the Public
This success story, is one of many you can find on the PAE Website.
Many students in the program are in their 20s to 30s. They are mostly people who have worked hard and have reached the point in their jobs and careers that they can’t progress any further without a high school diploma. They have jobs, families and responsibilities that they have to balance with their classes.
Other students are older men and women who feel like they need to earn the diploma that eluded them in their youth. These students see past the economic needs for education, instead participating for the sake of education itself. Another group of loyal attendees have been steadily attending for years. They have well paying jobs, and have earned their diplomas long ago. They come to keep their minds sharp and their basic skills fresh.
The teachers, students and graduates that come from the Provo Adult Education Program are intelligent, hard-working and scrappy. The program embodies perseverance and positive humility in a way that should make every member of the Provo Education community proud.