Vt. Adult Learning helps many overcome challenges

MIDDLEBURY — In the search for appropriate pathways to higher education, some individuals may have emotional or abuse challenges, including anxiety, substance abuse, PTSD, or learning disabilities, to name only a few. While difficult, there are options.
Consider the story of Jessica Ben-Jedi, a recent graduate from Vermont Adult Learning who had left school in the 10th grade after struggling with a math learning disability. “It was embarrassing,” she recalled. “I didn’t know how to deal with it. It brought me to give up and walk away from (school).”
Ben-Jedi was able to come back to her education almost 30 years after dropping out of high school, but it hasn’t been easy.
At the Vermont Adult Learning graduation in June, Ben-Jedi was unable to walk because she was still working on passing the mathematics exam. The staff presented her with an honors award and reassured her that she would graduate soon.
One month later, nine months after starting her studies, Ben-Jedi passed. “I couldn’t have done it without (the staff’s) support and encouragement. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” she said.
Today, she has completed her GED, and is looking into training to become a Medical Assistant.
Often, Peterson said, students simply need some encouragement to pursue their dreams. “People get discouraged rather than seeing a pathway forward that is filled with hope.”
Peterson also noted that for residents struggling to overcome any serious obstacle, education contributes to a person’s sense of empowerment.
“There’s a poverty mindset that goes along with economic poverty — a feeling like ‘I don’t have any control over my choices because the system is set up in such a way that I can’t be successful,’” Peterson said. “Education gives people this control.”
Others may face more serious struggles connected to drug abuse or perhaps a criminal record.
“Sometimes these barriers are in the form of internal bias or stigma, sometimes they are more literal. For example, people can be disqualified from educational grants based on criminal history,” explained Stacy Jones, executive director of the Turning Point Center of Addison County in Middlebury.
Nonetheless, Jones stressed, education helps individuals engage with their communities in meaningful ways and is essential for those individuals to move past those obstacles.
“Where we find the most value is where we connect with other individuals. People actively in substance use are isolated. Education and vocation are the ways that that experience reverses,” Jones said.
From an employer’s perspective, Jones says, they might consider looking at these underserved populations. “There’s not always intentional exclusion of people with substance abuse issues, but it is a population employers don’t readily consider,” but could be beneficial under the right circumstances.

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