Can’t you hear the song from Grease as Pinky contemplates quitting beauty school? Well, I have been a community college drop out, not once, but twice. Sure we can blame it on getting pregnant, played around too much, didn’t focus on school or “taking time for myself”, but really, I think it was just another reason for people to validate why I dropped out. Those excuses really are not the root cause. If you are a teacher or a parent, maybe even a high school student I hope that this helps you. I know I use(d) these as a guide for helping my kids. Let me just start by saying that I do hold both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Management and Organizational Leadership from Millikin University and Benedictine University, respectively. So, it turned out okay, it was just far more of a struggle than I think really had to be. In high school I was, what I call an average student – A’s and B’s. I hold education important, so I don’t feel that C’s are ‘average’. To stay competitive, we really need to up our game in the educational system. So, back to the story. I started college with a summer course immediately after I graduated. Pshychology 101, at 8:00 a.m. three days a week. Hind sight is always 20/20, I am not a morning person by any means now, and as a teenager, sleeping until noon during the summer was a necessity. Why I chose that time, I will never know. But, I did great at it and got an A – woo hoo starting out college with a 4.0! Then the fall semester came and I was signed up for a full course load for the nursing program. I was kind of lost, as all my friends were drifting away. We went to the same school, but their class schedules were different than mine and I don’t think I was sure of what I should do. That is really weird of me to see that as I have always been an independent person. Growing up as an only child, you kind of have to be, but in high school my friends and I hung out between classes, hung out at lunch, after school, etc. It is something you wait for your whole child hood, but when graduation happens, you really aren’t sure what to do, who you are, where you are going. It can get lonely. I was struggling with my course load, keeping up with the assignments, my heart just wasn’t in it, so, I dropped all my classes. Not really a stellar time in my life, it didn’t really make my parents happy. Neither one of them had a college education, so it was important to them that I attend. They of course, were in the working world and saw the importance that college educations had. Me? Well, I was a teenager, and what do all teenagers think their parents know? Squat. Yup, like I said, hindsight is always 20/20. But, we have to learn those lessons on our own. Best lessons are the hard lessons you learn by making mistakes. The love of my life (well, at least the last year at this time) was in his second year of dorm life at a four year college an hour away on a full grant studying engineering. He struggled with some of the roommates he had, calculus classes, and I think that same feeling I had… Where are all the people that I know? Who are all these weird people? 🙂 When he lost his grant, during the summer semester, he obtained loans, but those were weighing on his stress level. Ultimately it was all too much and he decided to return home to attend community college, the same one I dropped out of. I was thoroughly enthused as I missed him VERY much! Well, I bet you can tell exactly where this is headed… we were in love, I was almost 18, he didn’t want to move in with his parents, I was ready to get out of small town living so we got an apartment together. Really intelligent, since I worked at K-mart part-time and he worked for his dad’s machine shop that had just opened a year before, part time. I wish that I had that same belief that everythign would be great and just jump into decisions like that…. We were invicible! 🙂 Christmas came and I learned that a few months prior, he purchased an engagement ring which he gave to me Christmas day. On December 27th, reluctantly I took a pregnancy test that turned out positive. Well, that kind of put a little bit of a damper on our cloak of invincibility, but everything happens for a reason. Sure the first thing our friends asked was, “What are you going to do? Keep it? Abortion? Adoption?” Dumb question in our minds, as abortion was not an option (I will have to blog another time on the story behind my being an only child.) No way were we going to give a product of our love for each other away to someone who may not raise them with any morals or worse…. We did it, we were already planning to be together, this just sealed the deal. We planned a wedding and were married about 6 weeks later on February 20th. I can publish this as I have never hidden the fact from my kids that I was pregnant before we were married. Remember I hold education very important, I wanted them to learn math and the gestation period for a human being. 🙂 Obviously the story doesn’t end there, I said in the beginning that I had a bachelor’s and master’s degree. And it doesn’t. Basically through living life without a college education, I learned that I was the one who didn’t know jack squat. Frankly, I didn’t know jack or squat. What my parents saw was what I learned. If you want to be successful in your climb on the career ladder you need a college degree. My husband learned first. He worked for his dad for my pregnancy and he had a dream to work for Wagner Castings as a CMM programmer, which came to fruition when Alyssa was just a month old. A full time gig with benefits, but on third shift. Almost a year later, he obtained a position at a Fortune 50 company as a machinist when Alyssa was about to turn 1 year old. This gave us far superior benefits as well as an 80% raise. He worked a lot of overtime in this job, many 12 hour days, many weekends. Started out on 2nd shift, then moved to third shift. It was rough on a family. I had worked odd jobs as needed to get a little extra cash and obtained a full time job at a local credit union. After a few months there, Alyssa’s respiratory infections got progressively worse until they just didn’t go away. Poor thing at 18 months old we thought she would cough up her toe nails. Many missed days of work for me as I couldn’t take her to the sitter when she was sick. This continued for several months. Meanwhile, we were planning on expanding our family and after trying for a year, when Alyssa was just about 27 months, I found out I was pregnant. I stopped working full time and focused on family. We found out when we switched pediatricians that she had Asthma. With that diagnosis and breathing treatments, life was hunky dory again. Well, remember my husband had two dreams, well, his third was to become a processor at the Fortune 50 company. However, when he talked to the supervisor about moving, he was told that he would need an Associate’s degree. He was really reluctant to get it, but I nudged him to go for his dream. He graduated from the community college and guess what? He did not immediately move up. Very aggitated, he kept applying with no success. He went back to talk to the supervisor again and this time was told that now it required a bachelor’s degree. He was throroghly aggrivated and refused to do so. After several times of being told the lack of a bachelor’s degree was what was holding him back, I finally nudged him to follow through. He graduated after countless hours of studying and weekend classes. After six months of passing around his resume, he finally got that dream to become a processor. Even better benefits, day shift job and the sense of achievement. And no loans, his schooling was paid in full by the company. So, throughout all of this, I worked several more odd jobs here and there to supplement the income since he was not working as much overtime. I worked full time at a criminal defense law firm, which was somewhere I never imagined in a million years that I would work at, much less enjoy. I took a correspondence course and became a paralegal and moved to a bigger, civil law firm. Another job that I really enjoyed the work. I enjoyed my co-workers. My boss? Depends on the day. This law firms method of employee retention was to pay far over what other firms pay so that the employees do not feel that they can take a pay cut. Well, several things changed during the time that I worked there. Push was on velocity and quality. Well, we all know what happens when you rush through things – you make more mistakes. These mistakes were simple errors in transferring of information, but in the legal realm of representing banks in foreclosures, it can mean thousands of dollars in fees and lost time fighting to correct the error. Each of these errors was never forgiven as if they were etched into the drywall. When you work in conditions like this and they continue to push for perfection at a higher velocity, the only thing that happens is the pressure causes more mistakes. My boss was your best friend one minute, but the second that you crossed her (in her eyes) you were the spawn of satan. In my four years working there, I called in ‘sick’ the day of work only when it was a true emergency – people, I came to work with strep throat eating ice cream all day if I could. I came to work with a respiratory infection that I took the cough syrup with codeine as directed when I got to work and ended up passing out in the break room. I had a spinal tap done that ended in a spinal headache, but I attempted to come to work. My boss saw the pain on my face and increasingly getting worse and told me to go home and get well. This day she was caring. when that headache lasted a week, I had become the devil. This was when the light switch flipped on. not only did her ridiculous reactions annoy me, but the spinal tap confirmed a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. This diagnosis meant that I can’t plan for the future as if I am invincible any longer. I had to start thinking about how my life could change in the next minute and not be able to walk or something as equally as strange. I needed to work full time to get my kids ready for college and if I was going to want to retire someday, I had to do something different. So, my husband knew how frustrated and upset I was getting with my Jeckel and Hyde boss and told me to do the same thing he had – go back to school. As I look back some things that I think would have helped me would have been: – Having a specific career goal by the time I was a sophomore in high school to work towards. I just took whatever was on the schedule, if I had a choice, I generally chose a study hall, which didn’t build any skills for me at all. Sure, it was a good time with the other students and the teacher if you chose the right study hall, but nonetheless, not very academically challenging. – Career Cruising Assessment available to determine my strengths and weaknesses (or really anything of that type). If you don’t know what Career Cruising is, please check out their website. This is a skills, needs and preference assessment to help you determine what careers you would be good in/happy in. If you want to learn more about it, you click on the career and it gives you a host of information – the job title, description, average earnings and the education needed to go into the field. The down fall is that your school has to participate in it and actively push it to the students. And, I feel incredibly old saying this, but alas, when I was in high school, we were just getting computers…. the internet was years away. But something of the same nature would have been a great tool. – Once completed, some type of mentorship program or job shadowing opportunity with someone in that field. – (Neither of my parents went to college, so they couldn’t guide me. Students with parents that have not been in school need the extra coaching and guidance. Or workshops for the parents, support groups.) – RCC programs – have classes in blocks that compliment each other. Instead of fitting the classes into your program when able to, a nice schedule to follow. – RCC Counselors to schedule classes to fit the schedule of the student. No 2-4 hour breaks between classes. Maximize their time, they get bored between – it is not high school anymore not everyone is free at that same time. It gives you time to realize you are alone…. When I returned to RCC, I talked to a counselor and they had me going every which direction. I took the course book home and courses required by the program and I did the schedule myself. Took out an unnecessary class and as a working mom, utilized the evening classes to maximize the time I was at school so I could maximize the time I had with my kids at home. – Positive support of teachers and counselors throughout school, starting in Kindergarten. Help support their excitement, show them how to get there. One of the times that I will neverforget, when I realized that the radiology program was not going to be an option, I sought out my Bio 202 teacher, Mrs. Godin to pick her brain on her thoughts. She told me, “You are smart, you can do Anything you want. Can you be a Physician’s assistant? No doubt in my mind. No doubt in my mind that you could be a physician. You are very intelligent and I know you would succeed at any of those.” That one moment in time, changed my life. I no longer did status quo. I went for the gold! Excellence in everything I did. – Job shadow opportunities in careers the student feels that they would like to be involved in. At my son’s IEP last year, he had mentioned Auto Tech and they were going to put him into vocational. I asked that they not, I know Brian and he would not like it. Later that week, my husband said that he needed to take his car to the dealer for an oil change. My son said, “Why don’t you do it at home?” My husband asked if he wanted to help? Brian said, “Ok, as long as I don’t get squirted with oil, I don’t want to be dirty.” If we had put him in vocational, he would have failed. With his Asperger’s he never would have come to us and said, “I don’t like that”. He would have just been non-compliant. For me, in school, if I had been given a job shadow opportunity, I might have fell in love, it would have been visual what I wanted to do, I would have developed the dream/goal. – I went thorough several degree options. Rad Tech, nursing, biology, legal. The biology is an interesting one. I tested in math placement at RCC and I needed FIVE classes to qualify me for the program, so I gave up and went to work full time thinking that I would never finish – That is two and a half years added onto my school time. When I started Millikin’s PACE program, I didn’t place any higher but I only needed two 10 week courses to fulfill the void. More expensive, but well worth it. RCC and Millikin should partner up and leverage the accelerated classes to help people get up to speed, get their degree and get done. The longer you drag it out, the more likely they are to get discouraged and drop. (I was discouraged twice and MAD when I found out that I could have taken 2 classes at MU.) Put the options in front of them instead of them having to figure out how to make their plan work. To me, the counselor was more focused on RCC profit instead of my school ‘career’. Anyway, not that any one of these things was the driving force, ultimately it was my decision to drop out. And it was my decision to return to finish my bachelors and masters degrees. Unfortunately not every one of the drop outs will return.