adult learner, Advice, Community College, Dreamer, English learner, First generation, nursing, Single Parent, Transfer

Si se puede! … The Story of an Adult Learner

Young smiling Latinx man in surgical scrubsBy Pedro Aguilar

NU Scholar Cohort January 2020, Bachelor of Science, Nursing – Los Angeles Region, CA.

My story can be told from many perspectives. I am a community college graduate who transferred to National University after having a change of heart. While I had wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work, my work in mental health led me to pursue a degree as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. The rightness of this decision came home for me when Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, asked nursing students and other healthcare professionals to join in the fight against Covid-19. I can still remember Newsom saying “if you are a nursing school student, we need you” as he pleaded for Californians to join the California Health Corps.

I am a first-generation college graduate, single parent, English Language Learner, and adult learner. When I say adult learner, I really mean that I took my education seriously only once I became an adult. While attending community college I held many jobs: grocery clerk, crane and forklift operator, warehouse worker, cook, and painter. I was not sure what I really wanted to become in life, especially because education was not fostered where I grew up. Some of my peers went into real-estate, while others became working professionals like their parents. I, on the other hand, was just trying to find myself and generate a plan for my future.


One day during sociology class my instructor shared her experience working with troubled youth. I clearly remember her saying, “One day they love you, another day they are trying to hurt you, but working with them is so rewarding.” What she said inspired me, so after class I asked if she would write me a letter of recommendation. Soon after I became a youth counselor and began my career in social services. This experience taught me that you can find inspiration and ideas from the most unlikely places or comments made by the people around you.

Young man in face mask participates in COVID-19 relief efforts
“Showing others the way” means giving back and letting others know that if you overcame these obstacles, they can too.

“Show others the way” were a few of the words written on my yearbook by my English high school professor, Mrs. Olivas. I did not follow the traditional pathway of going to school, getting a good job or career, getting married, having a family, and living happily ever after. My life took some sharp turns along the way – but after running a few stop signs, getting a few speeding tickets, and repairing a flat tire or two, it eventually brought me where I am today. If you have a familiar story, keep going, and remember that you are not just succeeding for yourself, but that you are showing others the way.

If I had given up when I was in high school, it would have been expected because children that come from broken homes and who are English learners have a higher rate of dropping out.

If I had given up when I was in community college, it would have been expected of me because adults who don’t have a strong support system and who must work through their education have a lower chance of completing a two-year degree.

Diverse group of nursing students and their instructor in hospital setting
Pedro and other passionate student nurses in Los Angeles Cohort 20 celebrate the completion of another class with Professor Patricia A. Bridewell.

If I had given up after graduating community college it would have been expected of me because I was already a part-time parent and full time mental health professional, and had taken a few years off from school. When I attempted to go back, I was told that if I wanted to switch my major, I had to wait in the back of the line because I had lost priority registration. My counselor even told me, “We get that a lot, people are afraid to finish.” I explained to her that she was wrong – I was not afraid to finish, I just knew what I wanted to do.

If I had given up, I would have had to sit down one day and explain to my daughter how I found a million excuses to give up along the way. The thought that she would see a defeated man as opposed to a role model is what keeps me in the fight. I would rather keep my dreams alive and be the light for other dreamers that have lost sight in their path to success. Don’t ever give up! Si se puede!

YoungSmiling Latinx father and daughter in formal attire against a natural backdrop
Pedro and his daughter – Celebrating life’s successes, and looking forward to conquering new challenges. Si se puede!

Supporting low-income, rural students during COVID

Young woman in business attire again soft-focus natural background
Kate Stoddard is a first-generation student who has always dreamed of supporting migrant, low-income students in underserved communities.

By Kate Stoddard

NU Scholar, January 2020 Cohort

Master of Education, Inspired Teaching and Learning, Multiple Subject Credential, Emphasis on Social Emotional Learning – Sacramento Region

I am called to work with students in low-income migrant communities, communities that have always faced tremendous barriers and challenges. People have said to me so many times “Why would you choose that career, you are worth so much more money wise” I did not choose to go into the educational field for the money. I tell them that I want to make a meaningful impact on children’s lives, and to make the biggest difference that I can in the community. Having grown up in an underserved community, and having experienced that lack of resources, I know what it’s like to grow up in a community where there is a lot of pressure to stay home and help the family. I want to change that mindset for children who have the same experiences, and to provide the resources that their families need to let children  focus on their education and social emotional skills. 

While COVID-related shutdowns have impacted all students and teachers, groups like this were especially hard-hit when schools were forced to shut their doors and to shift in-person instructional time to online “distance learning.”  Many classroom teachers (including myself) are now trying to understand the ins and outs of distance learning for the first time. If teachers are struggling, try to imagine the struggle the students are facing. While children can adapt quickly to change, they need structure and support to be successful. 

Try to imagine living in a small rural underserved community where families face high rates of poverty, and many struggle to make ends meet. While this perspective may be hard to grasp for many readers, I’m sure that at least a few of you may understand how difficult this is. With parents under so much extra stress during this time, we educators are left to work out the kinks of distance learning, and be there for our students. 

With COVID school closures, children are being left home to try to not only figure out how to engage in distance learning on their own, but also to survive. One of the biggest barriers is a lack of internet access in their homes. I was teaching a 5th grader one-on-one, via Zoom, when I noticed that the student was sitting in the backseat of a car. When I asked why she was working in the car, the student explained that she was sitting in her car at the local town library, so that she and her mom could access the internet. Both this student and her mother were in school: one trying to get through fifth grade, the other in class to learn English. While her mom sits in the front seat, and works on homework, my student sits in the back seat, and meets with me. This experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of struggles for these kids. In addition to the barrier of unequal internet access, this experience highlighted how many of my students are  English Language Learners, and whose parents are also English Language Learners. When schools are open, the teacher and other staff are there to help them and explain problems and questions. When their parents at home speak only Spanish, for example, it is difficult for them to get help on assignments. Many of these parents also have little experience using computers, and may not be able to help their kids with technical issues, like using Zoom, installing updates, and participating in online discussions.

A ten year old being left alone at home to figure out their academics, and mom and dad working to keep the lights on. This is the reality of these students’ lives. As a district we have provided many resources for these families (such as free laptops for those who need them, and continuing free breakfasts and lunches for students learning at home), but I worry that we need to do more for their social and emotional health. These students may not see what the future holds, but if we cultivate and support their ability to adjust quickly to adverse childhood experiences, this it will help them to fight in the future for their families injustices.

It is true that we are all experiencing hardships and difficulties relating to COVID. However, it has been hard to hear so many times “that it affects us all the same’” when, the fact is, it does not, as families with more resources are able to support these students much more than those without. This includes, for example, families with parents who are able to continue to work from home, families that can have one stay-at-home parent, parents who are tech-savvy English speakers, fast and reliable internet, good computers, quiet workspaces. While children are resilient and adjust quickly to their environments, as an educator, it is crucial that I continue to work hard to help these students get the resources needed to become successful. 

During this time, the question I continually ask myself is: “How can we as teachers make the biggest impact on these students, without causing more harm than good?” One way that I can do this is by using some of the resources that National University has made available to the public. I have found that the Sanford Harmony at Home resources (fro grades Pre-K to 6) have really helped me to support my students’ social-emotional learning over this time, which is so easily overlooked. I have also really appreciated the classroom resources that they have shared for grades Pre-K – 12, and which cover topics like how to run an engaging Zoom-based classroom to how to have engaging discussions online. 

I know that we will come out of this experience as stronger, better teachers. Thank you to all of the fellow teachers and students out there, and to the parents and community members who are supporting us.