Despite the obstacles, juggling, and pervasive uncertainty of today—as the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled our region—four of our students are thriving. They are enrolled in the new EduConnect college degree partnership with Southern New Hampshire University. Working toward their online degree to better their employment prospects and future, Morris, Kayla, Virgilio and Nadja are working with success coaches and staff from JEVS to keep on track and keep motivated. Here are their stories of success:
Meet Morris, a West Philadelphian dad, who is working toward an associate degree in general studies with a concentration in business and a dream of working in public administration. Morris works in healthcare and social services—along with some side jobs in the community—to support his four-year-old daughter. He knew he was capable of doing more at his company, but his lack of a degree was holding him back.
“This program and its structure have been life-changing because, for the longest time, I didn’t have the confidence to go back to school.” Morris had no idea where he would find the time. He had tried to go back before, but his letter grades would drop, money was wasted, and he would find himself back at square one. But with EduConnect, Morris found the hope he needed.
“When I learned about the project-based model of the curriculum, it seemed perfect.” Morris could still work his multiple jobs and raise a family, with the goal of getting his degree to help ease his future workload. With the current virus crisis, Morris did find it hard to juggle everything on his plate, but with help from his JEVS coach, Karen, he has found a good balance of work, life, and academics.
Morris finished his semester a month early and is already halfway through his associate degree in five months. He hopes to continue onto his bachelor’s. “The coaches instill that if you have experience and talent, you can succeed in your career.” These words have stayed with Morris throughout his journey in the program. “Having coaches work with you when you feel like you have hit a brick wall and share a different perspective really was helpful for me.”
Meet Kayla, a 23-year-old single mom who started in the EduConnect program in July 2019 after being a graduate of JEVS’ Work Ready program. Before finding the program, she had tried everything to complete her education (attending a community college twice), while raising two small children. Getting the grades weren’t the struggle; she could maintain a 4.0 GPA. It was balancing her daughters, working, and school at the same time. It seemed almost impossible, and getting a paycheck was more important at the time.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, Kayla again found difficulty managing. She had her full-time job as a bank teller, managing her academic load, and now the added responsibility of homeschooling her children. Through support from JEVS coach, Jabari, she came up with a new work schedule that enabled her to juggle both her schoolwork and job, as well as find an affordable tablet for her children to use for their assignments.
In six months, Kayla has completed almost half of her associate degree, something most people take two years to do. Working on multiple projects at once is what allowed her to move so quickly. “This different way of learning really makes a difference,” she said. “I was always connecting with my coaches, they calmed me down. Coach Karen told me that I have potential and to stop doubting.” Kayla says Karen was a major emotional support for her.
Kayla has realized she enjoys finance and wants to go on for her bachelor’s, perhaps to move up to a bank manager. She also wants to help others. “I’m the first American in my family. A lot of where my family is headed depends on me. I want to run a business, bettering my Hispanic community.”
Meet Virgilio, a 19-year-old from Upper Darby, Pa., who has been enrolled in the EduConnect program for two trimesters. Virgilio is an immigrant who came to America when he was young with English as his second language. He graduated in 2018 and went straight to community college, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a great experience. He was overcharged because they thought he still lived in the Dominican Republic.
Despite these obstacles, he was still a great student; he went to office hours, tutoring sessions, and checked in with his professors on his performance. He thought he did all of the right things, but just weeks before the semester ended, Virgilio was told by a professor he was not going to pass. As a result, he left school to focus on work and supporting everyone in his family that he lives with.
Nowadays, Virgilio juggles his schoolwork and his full-time job as a front desk security associate. With the COVID-19 outbreak, he is working extra hours to help cover his recently unemployed family members. But he’s “still doing an amazing job in the program,” said the JEVS coaches, which have been working with him and his family to gain access to unemployment benefits to help lessen the load on Virgilio. They also continue to cheer him on through everything.
Meet Nadja, a mother of two going for her associate degree in general studies with a concentration in business. Nadja dropped out of school nearly 20 years ago, encountering multiple hurdles in both her personal and professional life that made college impossible. She thought jumping back into school after so much time off seemed nearly impossible, but she was determined to prove to her daughter (who is a senior in high school) that it isn’t as hard as you think. “I wanted to finish what I started,” she said.
Najda has always worked in banking, moving her way up from teller to now insurance broker. Although she was able to prove herself time and time again, she never could be considered for a management position because she didn’t have a degree. That’s when Nadja decided to start the EduConnect program.
“Nadja has been with the program for two trimesters and has shown herself to be all-star student,” said her JEVS success coaches. “She had one-third of her entire trimester’s work done in just the first two weeks of school!” Nadja hopes to continue at her fast pace and obtain her associate degree within the next year, looking to possibly continue to her bachelor’s degree afterwards.
Najda’s manager at work has been supporting her decision each step of the way, and she has already received a promotion in good faith of her efforts to get the degree. “Being 20 years out of school, I had no idea where to start,” she said. “My coach from JEVS really helped me. Just thinking about going back to school was scary. Having someone to talk to was great.”