Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 20, 2014

Accelerating the positive

Woman determined to complete ACTC program

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — One thing Sherry Jacobs knows about herself is she is not a quitter.

She told herself that as a teenager when she was recuperating and learning to walk again after traffic accident injuries that doctors said would confine her to a wheelchair for life.

She repeated it time after time while she was raising four children.

Jacobs is now 50. So last fall, when she was taking adult education classes and planning to study for the health-care professions at Ashland Community and Technical College, it was only natural Jacobs would invoke the same familiar refrain to carry her through the long, tough slog to graduation.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone says, if you are a determined person, you can be what you want to be. You have to have the willpower,” she said.

She doesn’t have to do it on her own, however. Jacobs is one of 12 ACTC students among the first to be enrolled in the Accelerating Opportunity program, which combines adult basic education needs with college coursework.

Students in the program can dive into their college classes while finishing their adult education work; staffers work with them to solve problems and remove barriers to learning and graduating.

Jacobs is studying for her certification in basic health-care foundations, which she expects to earn this spring and which will lead her to better jobs than she has had so far.

It’s a journey that started when she was a teenager, although she probably did not know it then.

Jacobs, originally from Frenchburg, struggled in school and dropped out at 16 after repeating seventh grade three times. Two years later a cattle truck hit her, dragged her 50 feet and pinned her head underneath when it came to rest.

Her skull was fractured and her legs were injured.

Doctors told her she never would walk again or have children but Jacobs shrugged their words off. “I love to walk. I was bound and determined to walk. And I can. One leg is a bit longer than the other but I walk fine. And I have four children.”

Over the years, Jacobs worked in a succession of dead-end jobs — gas station attendant, store clerk and the like.

About a year ago Jacobs decided it wasn’t good enough, that she was tired of working for minimum wage and struggling to pay her bills.

Her children were grown. After two failed marriages, her relationship with a supportive husband was flourishing. “Whatever I decide to do, Randy stands behind me 100 percent,” she said.

She enrolled in adult basic education classes and by December was closing in on her GED when Accelerating Opportunity program coordinator Chrisha Spear called her out of class and briefed her on the program.

It is new this semester at ACTC and seven other colleges in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System; the other eight initiated the program three years ago.

Its key is combining adult education, the basic literacy and math courses vital to succeeding in college and work, with college-level technical courses.

Students also spend time in support sessions where they work on skills like notetaking and test strategies.

The goal is to get students into the workplace sooner and with the credentials they need to get good jobs, Spears said.

Jacobs had earned her GED before she started ACTC classes in January, but in the Accelerated Opportunities program she would have been eligible to start college while still working on the GED.

That was a selling point, Jacobs said, because she wasn’t sure she’d pass the GED test the first time around, and didn’t want to delay entering college if she didn’t.

She also credits Spears and the program with encouraging her to aim higher. “Without it, I probably would have gotten an GED and gone back to be a cashier. But with it, I don’t have to stop there,” she said.

That kind of encouragement is an integral part of the program. “I’m their success coach. I help them remove barriers,” Spears said.

The 12 students enrolled this semester all are in health-care classes. Spears will offer the program in welding, diesel technology and industrial maintenance if at least 10 students in one of those areas are interested.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.