2020 will go down as a year like no other for most people. While many will talk about the challenges of halting normal routines due to a global pandemic, Heather Farley will speak of 2020 as a year when she accomplished a big goal. In November, she completed her high school equivalency credential, something she had been working toward for years.
Heather’s story is unique. She stopped going to formal school in sixth grade, a decision culminating from learning difficulties and homelife challenges. From sixth to ninth grades, she was homeschooled. When she attempted to return in ninth grade, there were too many deficits to overcome and she dropped out again.
After a series of life events including participation in a culinary arts program, having a baby at the age of eighteen, relocating from Daytona Beach to Kentucky, and losing a son to SIDS, today, Heather finds herself a strong, determined young woman. Now in a committed relationship with her significant other of 13 years, she is mom to three girls and a farmer, aspiring to become a mortician.
By chance when Heather moved her family to Mt. Eden, Kentucky, she ended up being a neighbor to Cheryl Stringer, a retired teacher and part-time journalist. It was Cheryl who encouraged Heather to make small deliberate steps toward her goals. Reading difficulties kept Heather from being able to complete required placement tests to officially begin her studies for a GED® credential, so Cheryl tutored Heather in reading until she was able to read well enough to begin formal studies.
“I had decided to be a stay-at-home mom and live and work on our farm,” said Heather, “but once I found that spark, I was on my way.” She enrolled in the Anderson County Ky Skills U hosted by Bluegrass Community and Technical School. Here she encountered instructors Bonnie Fisher and Jana Terrell. “They were my encouragers,” explained Heather. “At times they were tough when I needed that but always sweet, loving and encouraging. I couldn’t have done it without them.” Ms. Fisher said Heather had everything she needed, she just needed the confidence and encouragement to reach her goal. “Heather is intelligent, self-motivated and determined to set a good example for her children. She just needed someone to encourage her and support her which is part of what we do.”
As Ms. Fisher and Ms Terrell can attest, students must complete coursework in math, reading, science and social Studies as well as, pass practice tests to determine readiness for the official GED® exam. Keeping students focused and progressing can be a challenge in the best of circumstances when adult learners are balancing work, childcare, homemaking, etc. One of the most important factors in keeping students engaged is the ability to offer opportunities to work on course assignments outside in-person class sessions. One of the ways adult educators accommodate the needs of learners is through KET’s FastForward online learning platform specifically designed to prepare for high school equivalency exams. Many KY Skills U centers, including the one in Anderson County, partner with KET to offer FastForward online courses.
When Covid-19 closed in-person learning in Kentucky, Heather was able to continue her studies by logging onto the FastForward program from home. As she completed the coursework, her instructors were able to monitor her progress, collaborate with her and work through areas where she needed further instruction or explanation, even though their communications were virtual.
“I loved FastForward, everything about it. I was going to in-person class a few days each week and using it there so when I had to transition home due to Covid-19, I was already familiar and could keep on working in the same program. It contains all the subjects and practice. It was nice to be able to log in along with my teachers and discuss things,” Heather explained.
“Even though all coursework and practice that students need is contained in the FastForward system, it is still very important for students to have interaction with their instructors so we connected with Heather through Zoom, on her phone, on her laptop, just whatever worked so she could keep going,” Ms. Fisher commented.
Heather took her official GED® tests in November 2020 and passed to earn her high school equivalency diploma! She has already enrolled at BCTC to work on an associate degree. Her hope for the future is to become a certified funeral director and embalmer. Her father once worked in the funeral home industry and Heather knows the significance of grief and loss having lost an infant son in 2008. She even has ideas about how to make the process more bearable emotionally and financially plus how to make the interment eco-friendly!
“Big dreams take catching a spark and then small steps,” Heather concluded. We are honored to have played a small part in her story by partnering with KY Skills U in offering FastForward. We cannot wait to see what is in store as Heather moves her future forward!