For the estimated 700,000 California community college students contending with basic needs insecurity, the complications of COVID-19 reach well beyond the classroom. As Californians stockpiled supplies in the early days … Read More – A Drive to Do More: NOCE Food Pantries Adapt to Distanced Distribution
Dropping Back In: An NOCE Alum’s Journey from High School Dropout to College Freshman
Feature Story September 01, 2020
One student drops out of high school every 26 seconds, according to DoSomething.org. Those young adults will earn $200,000 less than a high school graduate over their lifetimes, and about one million less than their college counterparts.
For dropouts, who command an average yearly salary of just $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it can be hard to make ends meet.
Former NOCE student Jeremiah Campbell knows all too well how workers without a diploma struggle in their daily lives. Once, he was a homeless teenager, scrambling to keep up with high school before dropping out. Now, what must seem like a lifetime later, he’s passed the HiSET exam to complete high school, and come this fall, will become a college student.
His life-changing secret for success?
“Despite all the struggles I was going through, NOCE was there for me and helped me get back on track,” says the Fullerton College-bound freshman. “If not for the High School Diploma/GED-HiSET Preparation Program at NOCE, I do not know if I would have ever been able to accomplish my goals.”
Growing up, Campbell says he had a difficult life and an unstable family situation. At 13, he was sleeping in a van owned by a friend of his family. But if the vehicle was locked at night, as it often was, he would find himself out on the streets.
“I was living on five dollars a day,” remembers Campbell.
On top of the stress generated by his living situation, he fell behind in his studies and was often bullied at school. “Many times, I was jumped by a group of teenagers, forced to the floor, and beaten,” says Campbell. Only his favorite music classes kept him coming back to school.
Life took a brighter turn when the tenacious teen turned 15 and landed a job at a local pizza parlor, saving up enough money to rent a room. But soon, another traumatic event would shatter his hard-won confidence. While walking home from class one day, a teenager with a gun fired a shot at him, then drove off. Though Campbell was not hit, the incident caused him to reshuffle his priorities.
He left high school and enrolled in a home study program for one year, but after an extended illness, Campbell was told he had been dismissed. “That’s how I became a high school dropout,” he says. After that, he tried many times to earn his diploma but found it impossible.
“My choice was either go back to school and be homeless, or work and keep a roof over my head,” he reflects.
It would take more than 20 years for the intrepid student to find his place at NOCE, where he enrolled concurrently in adult continuing education classes at the Wilshire Center in Fullerton and the High School Diploma/GED-HiSET Preparation program at the school’s Anaheim Campus. Resolved to make a better life for himself, he studied every day, and in December, he passed his first of five needed exams of the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET).
According to Campbell, it was his instructors that made the most significant difference, always taking time to help him understand the material and tutor him one-on-one. It was clear that they really cared, he realized, and wanted to see him succeed.
“Jeremiah was a standout student with the level of preparation and dedication that he brought to the classroom,” says his instructor Lauren Mata, Basic Skills adjunct faculty member at NOCE.
Mata helped Campbell create a custom learning plan, recommending resources, study strategies, and tips for test-taking. Mata connects with NOCE students from all walks of life, including English-language learners, single mothers, people looking for a better job, recovering addicts, and former convicts wanting to turn their lives around.
“Many of my students are unemployed or are trying to get out of minimum-wage jobs and into a career,” says Mata.
Mata is passionate about helping her students achieve those goals with the help of outstanding NOCE services: a library of textbooks and laptops that are free to use in the classroom, loaner laptops available for check-out for online classes, free Aztec software for learning at home, and support for basic needs, including a food bank and emotional counseling.
With the high-touch support from his NOCE instructors, Campbell became a full-time student and passed three more tests by the end of February. He was just one exam away from earning his high school equivalency.
“With my last test, I knew it would be tough,” shares the steadfast student. “Math was my weakness, and I did not know if I could pass.” But he prepared diligently and worked closely with his teachers, who encouraged him to schedule his final exam, and his spirits soared.
“At this point, I thought nothing in the world could stop me from hitting my goal,” remembers Campbell. “I was wrong.”
Just one weekend before his exam, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and all testing centers closed due to the stay-at-home order in Orange County. Campbell was shocked and upset to have come so far only to fall short at the last moment. He recalls, “I felt like such a failure.”
In a state of limbo waiting for the test centers to reopen, he began selling possessions to get by, meanwhile working as a volunteer with his church to distribute essential supplies to families in need. By the end of May, Campbell began to lose hope when he received a promising e-mail from NOCE. Much to his relief, he discovered that classes had gone online.
Re-enrolled and back in good hands, Campbell hit the books again, keeping his math skills fresh via virtual instruction while keeping one eye on the testing centers. He finally rescheduled his math exam for June 15, hoping at last to earn his equivalency.
“I took the test, and I failed,” admits Campbell, who says that he was too nervous to concentrate and did not feel as prepared as he had been in March. Nevertheless, he says, “I could not let that failed test stop me.”
More determined than ever, he scrutinized his results, zeroed in on his trouble spots, and spent countless hours studying and receiving individualized tutoring online. He rescheduled the test for June 23, and at about 11:15 a.m., he received the good news.
“I passed the math test portion for the HiSET, and an over 20-year journey finally came to an end,” beams the proud student.
Campbell is quick to offer kudos to his teachers, including Mata, “for all of the work they put in and for the faith they put into me, even when I didn’t have faith in myself.”
For Mata, Campbell’s positive rebound was not a surprise.
“Jeremiah persevered, worked hard, and refused to give up despite the difficulties he faced,” effuses instructor Mata. “I knew he would succeed and I am so proud that he is going to Fullerton College!”
This fall, Campbell’s dreams are finally coming true. He is already signed up for his first semester at college and will be taking 15 units toward a psychology major. He plans to earn his associate degree before transferring to a university to earn a bachelor’s degree. Eventually, he wants to build a career in social work or mental health to help others overcome hardships.
“Now, I can move on in life. I can finally pave a path to my future,” says Campbell, who hopes his story can help inspire others to continue their education and achieve their goals. “Never give up on yourself.
“You can do this.”
By the Numbers: Dropping Out of High School: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/by-the-numbers-dropping-out-of-high-school/#:~:text=The%20average%20dropout%20can%20expect,someone%20with%20a%20bachelor’s%20degree
11 FACTS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT RATES: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-high-school-dropout-rates#:~:text=Every%20year%2C%20over%201.2%20million,from%20high%20school%20on%20time