June 22, 2023 by HCDE Communications
Graduation is a significant milestone, but it will be particularly special for 77 courageous adult learners who overcame challenges and got a second chance to earn their high school credentials.
Students in Harris County Department of Education’s high school equivalency (HSE) program will walk across the graduation stage in front of family, friends, and teachers on Saturday, June 24, 2023.
For graduates Jared Polanco and Irais Torres, the obstacles to their success included motherhood at an early age.
“I left school in my senior year only a few credits shy of graduating,” said 22-year-old Polanco. “I was in love and wanted to start my family early. I left because I thought I didn’t need my education and could find a job anywhere. My parents were not very happy with my decision, and they were right because I couldn’t find a job that would pay me a livable wage.”
Four years and two kids later, with another on the way, Polanco realized she needed to make a change.
“Being a mom, I wanted to further my education and help my husband because we’re a team,” she said. “Now I know that I do need my education.”
Polanco got to work and found HCDE’s Adult Education program online. She decided it was the right avenue for her when she learned that HCDE would not only prepare her for the HSE exams and reimburse her for the cost of the tests, but would also provide employability skills training and connect her to job opportunities.
“I really liked my courses and completing my HSE with HCDE,” said Polanco. “If I could rate it from 1 to 10, I’d give it a 100. I had very patient teachers. I did my online courses in the evenings from 6 to 9 p.m., and they were so, so motivated to help me. They made me feel comfortable.”
The experience of earning an HSE as an adult sparked a newfound love of education in her. Polanco has also completed various online childcare training courses through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to help broaden her opportunities.
“My HSE is only the first step on the path that I want to go. Now I know that anything I do is possible,” said Polanco. “I want to be a teacher and a nurse. Right now, I am applying for a job with Harris County Department of Education. It’s a dream for me to work there because it’s where I got my GED and grew as a person.”
Elsewhere, Torres, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, has also found a new sense of pride in working towards her HSE.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish middle school because of personal reasons that are very emotional for me. But mainly, it was because we don’t have the opportunities over there that we have here as children,” said Torres. “It’s very hard to go to school. I’m from a very little town where there is only elementary and middle school. If you want to go to high school, you have to go to other cities. We also didn’t have the money for transportation to go to those other schools.”
Since she was a girl, Torres dreamed of finishing her schooling because she saw the possibilities an education provided.
After moving to the U.S. and learning English, the mother of three tried other times to obtain her HSE, but life got in the way. In the fall of 2021, Torres says she saw a Facebook ad about HCDE’s adult education classes and decided to try one more time.
“The thing I liked about HCDE’s program is that you could study on your own time outside of the three hours, three times a week in class,” she said. “My teachers were great. I had one teacher who tutored me because I had trouble with the language. I had to take the test four times. But I was determined.”
That determination has started to rub off on those closest to her. Her husband and friends have all worked up the courage to get their HSEs too, many of them through HCDE.
“You never know how you can inspire other people,” said Torres. “My kids, they are very proud of me. My oldest son, Esteban, supported me when I was studying. He would bring me food. I think I’m setting a good example for them so they can succeed. That made me feel like I had to finish, so they could see they can be and do whatever they want.”
With credentials that will open new doors, Torres plans to continue inspiring others with her determination.
“I had a really good ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher when I first moved to the U.S. She inspired me to help other people,” said Torres. “After I get my HSE, I want to go to college and study to be a paralegal. But later, I would like to be a bilingual teacher. When I was going through the immigration process, it was hard. If I were a paralegal, I could help other people to make it easier for them. And I want to be a bilingual teacher to help other people to reach their goals.”
To learn more about HCDE’s Adult Education programs, visit hcde-texas.org/adult-education.