Charlotte Knox remembers what she kept telling her adolescent clients at the group home where she worked: Finish School.
One of her clients needed to take a credit recovery course after 10th grade. Going to classes in the summer and being a year older than her classmates was not what she wanted to do.
“Finish School, I told her,” Charlotte said. She spent most of her mornings at her 20-plus year career waking up teenagers and telling them to get ready for school. Most days, kids would grumble say No.
And Charlotte would say, “Finish School.”
But then something just nagged at her until she finally said.
“I need to finish school,” she said.
Charlotte dropped out of school when she was in 8th grade. She was such an excellent student that she considered skipping the fourth grade.
When she was in 8th grade, however, she was sexually and physically abused. Consistently. She got pregnant and had an abortion at age 11.
“With everything I was going through, the last thing I wanted to do was to go to school,” she said. Not that she had any problem with academics; it was her home life which was hard.
“I have a 14-year old daughter, and I also wanted her to see that education was very important,” Charlotte said. “I also wanted to give good advice to the youth I worked with.”
Like many of us, whether we are parents, caregivers, school workers, and even teachers, we may tell our kids to be more organized, to not procrastinate, to eat healthy and then we finally realize: Are we really following our own advice?
And as Charlotte and the rest of us are getting older, we may be asking ourselves, Is this really what we want to do? Can we do better than this? Are we at the best place in our lives? At age 52, yes, these questions entered Charlotte’s mind.
Charlotte’s dream to finish her education slowly nagged at her.
Her entry into adult life was tough. She battled drug addiction until she got septic in 2000. “It was real hard to get off drugs. You got to make up your mind that you want to get off of drugs. I played with myself saying I want to get off drugs, I don’t want to get off drugs. I do want to get off drugs,” she said. “It got real when I had my daughter.”
Charlotte, who has five children, did not raise her other four as she was on drugs for over 30 years. “My mom raised my now 36, 34 and 32-year kinds, and my 23-year-old son’s father dad raised my son,” she said. “I only raised my 14-year old daughter, and it was new to me to be a responsible mother,” Knox said.
She took her first steps back to school and finished her GED in 2014. “I was scared and terrified. I think I stopped school when I was just learning what a noun and verb was,” she said. To show to her clients that she was serious about her education, she studied and did her homework front of her youth clients. And sometimes, they helped her. When she received her GED, she thought, I should go to college.
She enrolled at a Milwaukee area campus – a writing intensive, open enrollment, fast-paced college program tailored to working adults to earn her bachelors degree. This means that Charlotte needed to be ready to write papers right from the start. And she also found out:
A syllabus is hard to understand and just really long.
Vocabulary in a syllabus is incomprehensible.
Wikipedia and Google search are not good research tools.
PowerPoint? Moodle? APA Style? Upload?
And then on top of it all, Charlotte had a stroke right before classes started. Since she left her job due to her stroke, she became worried about money. One night at a tutoring session before her paper was due, she put her head down.
“How can I worry about this paper if I am not sure how me and my daughter are going to eat tomorrow?” she said. Yet, she got it done.
With the help of a volunteer through Literacy For All, Inc., she learned how to do academic specific technology such as cutting and pasting her Word document into her online learning system, learning PowerPoint, proofreading her papers efficiently, finding and using evidence in her persuasive papers.
“Literacy For All, Inc. was very helpful,” she said. “I went from learning how to not start a paper to being able to start a paper, free writing, to supporting ideas, using PowerPoint and using APA,” she said.
“I get frustrated with myself and pressed myself to do better. I might not have money to get gas, but I keep on going because I knew there was something better. I want to get my education to get a better job, to be able to take care of myself and take care people I love. And to help others,” she said. “I love helping other people.”