Names have been changed.
I do not know that I, as an individual, make a difference; however, I do believe that WE, as a college, make a difference because we care, and we work hard to make one. “It takes a village […]” the African proverb teaches. The difference that we make is quantifiable in the success stories of our students. Through their success, the measurable difference becomes a bit more tangible. Here are a few of mine.
In my first semester as a faculty member at GCC, I had an 8:00 a.m. ENG102 class scheduled in LA107. In that class, I had Hercules, Heidi, Hunter, Jessica, Edgar, and 19 other students whom I would remember if I saw their faces. T used to sit in the back left corner of the room. Small in stature, she wore glasses and braces, but they did not mask her insecurity when it came to her writing skills, nor did they mask the fire that T possessed for achieving her goals. She was intelligent, persevering, and inquisitive. What I admired about her was that she never let up with her questions until she received the answer she was looking for. She was always diligent in her work, reading, revising, proofreading, rewriting, until her final product was A worthy. As I grew to know T over the course of the semester, I also learned that T is a fighter and that she had been on her own in the United States as a young teenager, leaving family behind in Guatemala, without knowing any English. She came to the United States to have surgery to help correct a congenital bone malformation in her leg. After my class ended, I would see her on campus, mostly studying for Chemistry, but she continued to check in with me in her next semesters, and about her search for scholarships to continue her educational dreams. She was unsuccessful in obtaining the Dorrance scholarship, but I wrote her another recommendation for Barrett, the Honors College at ASU. This fall, I received this email from T:
Hi Mrs. Dewey. I hope you are doing well and that your baby is growing big and healthy. I wanted to let you know that I am doing well. I am done for the semester, and my grades are looking good. It was a tough semester, but I am glad to be done for now. The honors class I took through Barrett was challenging, but it was also fun. There were lots of reading, writing, and discussing. I enrolled to take two honors classes for the summer 2016 in Canada. I am so excited and happy because I received a scholarship through the Study Abroad office to cover a great part of this study abroad program.
For now, I have to start studying for the GRE test. Next semester, I will get involved in research for diabetes at ASU. I know I will be busy, but I am looking forward to learn a lot.
I hope you had a great semester and that you have a great Fall break. Happy Holidays :). T
As I continued teaching, in my second year at GCC, I was scheduled to teach ENG091. Again, the class was in the LA building. As my previous chair said, “You can take the gal out of the LA building, but you can’t take the LA building out of the gal.” The first day of class, I met N. She sat in the front row, quiet, watching. Suspecting. She did not smile, and I think it was because she was wondering if she could trust me as her instructor or if she was going to like this lady (me). As the semester advanced, so did my rapport with N. With a quick wit, she quickly became one of my star students, especially when I shared her first narrative paragraph, “Don’t Tell Dad,” with the class about how to write a masterful paragraph. From 091, the next semester, I encountered N in my ENG101 class. In 101, her work continued to be outstanding, especially in her group project and her visual essay about the long term effects firefighters face on the job. N’s father, a retired firefighter, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and they believed it was due to all of the smoke exposure from his work. 101 ended, and the next semester came. Once more, her name showed up on my roster. This time it was for ENG102. Even though it was online, she continued to improve and complete impeccable work with her final research paper. Despite my protests that she should change her major to education, N is a nursing major, so I thought that once ENG102 was over, I would not see her again in class. However, she enrolled in my ENH295 class. In Banned Books, N proceeded to surpass herself with each project for the class. Every time she completed something, it was better than the last. Her final project was nothing short of amazing, and it proved to be a true capstone of all of her writing achievements. This fall, N will be transferring to complete her nursing degree, with the background that she made it through ENG091-ENH295 with straight As and the confidence to succeed.
In my third year as faculty, my office changed to HT2114. One of the first students to visit my office was S. S had enrolled in my 101 after being successful in another colleague’s 091 class. In tears, she came to see me the first day of class, “Miss, I can’t do this, miss. Miss, I’m so scared. Miss, I’m so nervous…I just can’t.” S has a congenital heart condition, and she has trouble with attention and organization. The first goal was for S to make it through 101. It did not come easily. The more difficult the tasks became, the less S trusted herself that she could complete the assignments. The fact that S’s family had financial struggles, fear of “la migra,” language barriers, and not enough food meant that her studies could have easily suffered. Nevertheless, they did not. S was never shy for asking for help, and she knew how to advocate for herself. I was willing to assist. With the right resources, and the team at GCC, we were able to help her with providing food for her family. From there, she knew that GCC “had her back.” S was successful in 101, and at the time, the certificate she was going for did not require 102, so we thought she was done in ENG until she signed up for 102. Again, she went to her instructor in tears about how she could not possibly do the work or be successful. Though, myself, her instructor, and other colleagues knew S and knew that she does not give up or in. We all provided encouragement and support for her. Sure enough, at the end of last semester, she popped in my office with a big grin, “ Hey Miss, guess what? I finished 102 with an A!” S is still working on her degree to transfer. She is unstoppable.
In another 101 class that year, I had R. R’s story is not about achieving high grades or transferring to a university. R’s story is about survival. R slinked into the very farthest corner of my 101 classroom. On the first day, he was distracted, tired, and seemed annoyed that he was there. Until his first writing, I had no idea, and I really mean, I had no idea. R conveyed that pretty much everyone in his family was dead and that he had been living in foster care. With a background of substance abuse, substantial loss, and being accused of starting a bomb threat in high school, he had not had many positive educational experiences. To boot, he had stopped taking his antipsychotic medications because of the insufferable side effects, but he seemed to be depressed and potentially at risk for suicide. Immediately, I reached out to our counseling center and set up a “meet” (a.k.a. please go talk to counseling because they are way more adept than me to deal with this) with one of our incredible counselors. R was willing, and he realized that GCC was there for him. However, the semester did not go on without a hitch. One time, I had to call Public Safety because he drank too many energy drinks and felt like he was going to have a heart attack. He was okay, but his peers and I were scared for him. By the end of the semester, I think he was on the border of passing or not passing. As we know, grades are only one measure of success. R’s success that semester was surviving. He is still here, and I am fortunate to see him on campus here and there as he is continuing to take classes. I always tell him that I am so glad to see him because it is the honest truth.
I have to go grade papers now, in hopes of fueling more success stories in my fourth year at GCC. I hope these anecdotes demonstrate that I make a difference because I care, but I am absolutely not alone in doing it. I know you all have your stories, too. WE, my village, from the administration, to the faculty, to the staff, make the difference.