Many are working & parenting while
completing high school, learning English
By Melissa Fili
Dressed in a Ranger Blue cap and gown, Methuen’s Peggy Mackey was more than ready to graduate.
After two years of studying, test-taking, remote classes and dedication to learning, she finally received her Adult Secondary Education (ACE) certificate at the Methuen Adult Learning Center’s 33rd annual Closing Ceremony.
“It was just time. I had to do it,” she said about committing to her education, while accepting a hug, balloons and a bouquet from her friend Dian.
This was a night filled with pride! Beaming students, smiling families and emotional teachers filled Methuen High’s Nicholson Auditorium on June 6. This year, 171 students from 23 countries and territories participated in ASE classes and English to Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) courses. They earned certificates for their various level of study (Fast Track Math, 3 levels of ESOL and 2 levels of HiSET/GED Prep). Many were also recognized for outstanding attendance while juggling their work schedules, parenting and personal responsibilities plus remote learning due to the COVID pandemic.
“We’re celebrating tonight in one room. Can you believe it?” Supervisor of Adult Education Susan Prior asked the crowd, noting it was the first ceremony in four years. “You bring richness and diversity into our lives and we thank you for that.”
Prior provided some stats about this year’s class:
*63% of this year’s students are parents, grandparents, caregivers or siblings of school-age children.
*65% of the students are working full time, part time or multiple jobs while juggling school and family responsibilities.
*19 students obtained new jobs after enrolling in school, with 4 earning promotions.
Five student speakers – Jessica Godoy, Diala Jabbour, Latifa Youssef, Wafa Sarhrif and Andrew Warren – told of their fears and challenges regarding starting school in a new country, the difficulties of learning English and even mental-health roadblocks. All those obstacles were overcome, thus leading to this moment! Family members and teachers were repeatedly thanked for their unwavering support.
Youssef spoke of her decision to leave Morocco with her husband and 8-year-old daughter (“my universe”). They arrived here in 2020.
“When the opportunity came for me to go to the United States, I didn’t hesitate for a single second,” she said. “(In Morocco) I was a purchasing coordinator in a pharmaceutical laboratory, I worked for 18 years in the same company. I have a degree in economic science.”
While she speaks Arabic and French, she really struggled with English, so she started adult-ed language classes. She worked at a pizza shop during the day, and studied at night with help from her little girl. Youssef is committed to improving her English and starting a new career.
Distinguished Alumna Yadira Vasquez told the audience that when she left the Dominican Republic at 18 years old, she thought she had no chance to finish college. But she enrolled at the Methuen Adult Learning Center in 2019, worked days, took English classes at night and flourished. She was accepted into a program at Northern Essex Community College, earning a business transfer degree with high honors and is enrolled at UMass Lowell where she’s working toward a bachelor’s in business administration.
“I’m grateful for the Methuen Adult Learner Center staff,” she said. “They are committed to their work, provide teaching and a lot of help to people like me who feel lost at one point in their life. Graduates, if you have a goal to achieve, don’t stop!”
The Callan Scholarship Award, named for the school’s founder Dr. Shirley Forrest Callan, went to Natalie Kowalski. Traditional K-12 school didn’t work for her and neither did online classes, so she enrolled at the Adult Learning Center in 2022.
“I needed something else, and Christa my teacher was that something else,” Kowalski said. “She was attentive to how I needed to learn and she customized my education to fit me. … I started to like school. By December, I passed all my exams and got my high school equivalency credential.”
Kowalski has already completed 1 semester at North Shore Community College and hopes to become a veterinary technician.
All classes are free and funded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Methuen Public Schools and the City of Methuen. Find out more at Methuen.k12.ma.us.