Adult Education Success Stories


JJC Adult Education students accomplish great things all the time. Here are some of their stories.

Overcoming Adversity to Accomplish Academic Success

When faced with adversity, how can someone find the strength to keep going? The answer is tenacity. It takes a very special person to stay the course and not waiver when things get difficult. Sandra Zarazua, a student in Joliet Junior College’s Department of Adult Education & Literacy program is one of the greatest examples of a person who has continued to persevere through life’s most challenging moments. Read Sandra's story below.

Tutoring Provides Assistance to Reach Educational Goals

When Plainfield resident Josefina Ruiz moved to the area a few years ago, she wanted to learn English so she could understand the language and assist her children with schoolwork. Initially she began taking General Education Development (GED) classes in Spanish at Joliet Junior College through the Department of Adult Education & Literacy. However, she had to tend to family matters in Mexico and was unable to finish the program. When she returned to the United States, she was determined to pick up where she left off. Read Josefina's story below.

English As a Second Language Classes Provide Valuable Learning

Father Hugo Erazo, O.S.A. is a priest at St. Jude Catholic Church in New Lenox, Ill. Earlier this year, he was assigned to serve at this parish from his Augustinian order in Peru, South America. Father Hugo speaks Spanish and at the time had limited familiarity with the English language. However, he would need to become more fluent in English in order to conduct mass and communicate with parishioners. Read Father Hugo's story below.

From GED to Degree at Joliet Junior College

Four years ago Fredy Rodriguez came to Joliet Junior College with one need, and that was to pass his General Educational Development test. The Joliet resident not only needed to pass a high school equivalency test to meet employer requirements, but he also wanted to explore opportunities to advance his career. Little did he know that a stop in JJC's Adult Education Department for a GED would lead him down a path to earn an Associate in Applied Science degree. Read Fredy's story below.

Success Stories

  • Overcoming Adversity - Sandra Zarazua

    Despite facing setbacks that would break even the toughest person, she has remained focused on accomplishing her goals. Sandra's tenacious spirit has captured the admiration of her peers as well as faculty and staff.

    In Fall 2015, the mother of three began attending GED classes to earn her high school equivalency certificate at JJC's downtown City Center Campus. After a 14-year hiatus from school, Sandra was enthusiastic to return. However, on the same day Sandra took her placement test she received a call from her doctor with unimaginable news. Her lab results revealed that she had cancer. This shocking news brought forth a variety emotions and concerns for her health, her family and her schoolwork.

    After taking some time to reflect with family, Sandra decided to focus on her classes instead of on illness. She continued to pursue a GED while balancing school and family. However, as part of her treatment, Sandra needed to have two surgeries. Sandra scheduled her surgeries for Thanksgiving Day so that she would not miss any classes. Sandra did not skip a beat.

    She even co-enrolled in Global Supply Chain Management training in Summer and Fall 2016 as part of theIntegrated Career & Academic Preparation System (ICAPS) program provided through the Department of Adult Education and Literacy. During that time, she simultaneously took classes to earn a college Certificate of Completion along with her GED. The Lockport resident managed all of this while taking care of her health issues and her family.

    Libby Budd, GED instructional coordinator at JJC, taught Sandra in Math and Science through several semesters. Libby said, "Sandra is a truly amazing student and I feel very lucky to say I was her teacher. Her drive to learn and to stay focused on the future remained constant through so many hardships. She never took any circumstance in her life as an excuse to give up or put off her education."

    Libby explained how Sandra helped her classmates along the way. She said, "Sandra made connections with the other students in class and she would endlessly encourage them, help them understand new concepts, and remind them to take better notes. She formed tightknit study groups within her classes and as a result pulled many other students forward in the educational process."

    After a lot of hard work and sacrifice, Sandra accomplished her goals. In December of 2016, she earned her GED and Global Supply Chain Management Certificate of Completion. She reached an important milestone in her academic career and it was time to celebrate.

    Sandra participated in JJC's Graduation Ceremony in May 2017 to receive her Certificate of Completion. Then, to celebrate earning her high school equivalency, she planned to join her GED classmates at JJC's 33rd Annual Adult Education Graduation Ceremony in June 2017.

    She gained so much respect from her peers for keeping a positive attitude and displaying a relentless determination while battling health issues and attending school. Sandra said, "I always tell my friends, if I was able to do it, they can do it." The Department of Adult Education & Literacy staff selected Sandra to serve as a student-speaker at graduation. Michelle Lyman, college & career transition specialist at JJC, added, "Her story is an amazing one, filled with hardship and the tenacity to overcome even the greatest challenges."

    When graduation day arrived, much to everyone's surprise, Sandra wasn't there. Staff were very concerned about her because they knew how much she was looking forward to it. They later found out that Sandra's health issues had taken a turn for the worse. This time she was airlifted to a hospital where she needed an emergency surgery to save her life. From there, she was transported to an out-of-state university research hospital where she was placed in isolation to undergo experimental treatments. One of the most difficult things was being away from her family for a few months.

    Fortunately, Sandra responded well to her medical treatments and is now in remission. When she returned home, one of the first things she did was stop by the Department of Adult Education & Literacy office to return her books from the Spring semester. She also inquired about registering for classes during the Fall 2017 semester.

    She met with staff and insisted that she not take a break. Sandra explained that continuing her education gives her a purpose and helps her maintain a positive attitude. Sandra explains, "I am a person that always says, when you want to achieve a goal you can accomplish anything without making excuses."

    Since Sandra missed her graduation ceremony and the opportunity to give her speech, adult education staff thought of a great way to honor her. At JJC's September Board of Trustees meeting, Libby read a proclamation to recognize Adult Education and Family Literacy week as September 24-30, 2017, then proudly introduced Sandra. She gave her emotional and heartfelt speech that made an impact on everyone in the room. Sandra also received her certificate from JJC President, Dr. Judy Mitchell. Libby added, "To say that Sandra is an inspirational person is an understatement. Like the ripple a stone makes on the surface of a pond, Sandra's personal dedication to education has spread out and touched so many people."

    Currently, Sandra is enrolled at JJC as a full-time student and is pursuing an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degree in Management and Supervision.She is also serving as a volunteer tutor in JJC's Adult Volunteer Literacy Program because she wants to give back to other Adult Education students. Michelle added, "Sandra is humble in her efforts and wants her fellow students to believe that if she could do it so can they."

    Sandra has already given back so much more to JJC's Adult Education community than she even realizes. She is an inspiration and her story serves as a constant reminder that even though things may seem at their worst, you can rise above!

  • Tutoring Provides Assistance to Reach Educational Goals - Josephina Ruiz

    When Plainfield resident Josefina Ruiz moved to the area a few years ago, she wanted to learn English so she could understand the language and assist her children with schoolwork. Initially she began taking General Education Development (GED) classes in Spanish at Joliet Junior College through the Department of Adult Education & Literacy. However, she had to tend to family matters in Mexico and was unable to finish the program. When she returned to the United States, she was determined to pick up where she left off.

    Josefina connected with Tania Brenner-Hess, ELL/ESL Liaison for the English as a Second Language program at the Plainfield Public Library District. She learned about free tutoring services, offered at the library in partnership with JJC, that were available to her as a resource. She worked very closely with a tutor who helped her prepare for all subjects that would be on the GED test. Josefina said, "I think Bonnie (tutor) helped me a lot because she's very patient and you can ask her again and again. She's always available to help." After working with Bonnie, Josefina began taking GED classes in English at JJC's Romeoville Campus.

    As Josefina explained, one of her biggest challenges was taking the GED test in English because it was out of her comfort zone. She said she would've been more comfortable taking the GED in Spanish, but she wanted to prove to herself that she could do it. She was determined and worked hard towards her goal.

    When she took the GED test the first time, she explained that she had trouble passing the English section, but she kept trying. After the second attempt, she passed. Josefina said, "It was a challenge, but I told myself I can do it. I was very happy because I did it." She added, "It's not easy but if you stay focused and on track, you can do it".

    Josefina completed her GED test and also had the honor of serving as one of the student speakers at the Adult Volunteer Literacy Thank You Banquet this past summer. Now she is working towards US Citizenship and continues to work with a tutor at the library.

    Mandy Dwyer, Literacy Specialist for JJC's department of adult education & literacy, noted how important it was that Josefina stuck with it. Despite having minor setbacks and needing to take time off, she kept coming back and finished the program. Mandy said, "She worked hard and persevered, and she did it."

    The Adult Volunteer Literacy Program offers free tutoring for Reading, Math, and English Literacy. Adults receive volunteer tutoring at local libraries, JJC Campuses, and community sites throughout the JJC district. Learners meet weekly with certified volunteer tutors for up to two hours; and sessions are available morning, afternoon or evenings to meet learner and volunteer needs. Instruction is learner-focused with materials provided.

    For more information about the Adult Volunteer Literacy Program, contact Mandy Dwyer at (815) 280-1331 or email: mdwyer@jjc.edu

  • English As A Second Language Classes Provide Valuable Learning Opportunity - Father Hugo Erazo

    Father Hugo Erazo, O.S.A. is a priest at St. Jude Catholic Church in New Lenox, Ill. Earlier this year, he was assigned to serve at this parish from his Augustinian order in Peru, South America. Father Hugo speaks Spanish and at the time had limited familiarity with the English language. However, he would need to become more fluent in English in order to conduct mass and communicate with parishioners.

    He was referred to JJC's ESL program from an area high school teacher. The timing was perfect for him to attend an information session and enroll in classes. Father Hugo is having a positive experience in the program. He explains how this program has helped him with reading, writing, speaking and comprehending the English language.

    The instructors provide a relaxed atmosphere and are patient when students are learning these new skills. Father Hugo also enjoys the camaraderie with his fellow classmates. He said, "It is a rich experience for me with my classmates because they are from different countries in the world and we explain in our class about our countries. We also share our customs with each other. I like that."He explains how this interaction helps him converse in social settings in addition to the books, videos and other learning resources that are utilized.

    He is continuing with ESL classes this Fall to build on his skills. Father Robert Basler, O.S.A. who is the pastor at St. Jude Catholic Church added that Father Hugo is "Happy, Healthy and Holy." When Father Hugo talks about the ESL program at Joliet Junior College, his eyes light up. He is very grateful for his experience at JJC and expressed his thankfulness that these classes are available to him at no cost. He said, "I appreciate this great opportunity to learn English."

    The ESL program assists individuals who need to improve their English skills for academic, professional, or personal purposes. These classes are designed for all non-native English speaking adults. Six levels of instruction (beginning through advanced) are offered. Students are placed according to levels via standardized testing. Instruction is offered 4-12 hours per week. Integrated skill modules focus on listening, speaking/pronunciation, reading/vocabulary, and writing/grammar.

    JJC's Dean, Applied Arts, Workforce Education & Training, Amy Murphy said, "The ESL program is just one of many excellent programs that we have available through our Department of Adult Education & Literacy." She continued, "It's very rewarding when we find out from our students how we helped to make a difference in their life. We want our community to know that we are here for them with the programs and services that we have to offer."

    JJC's Department of Adult Education & Literacy is located at the City Center Campus, Room 3019, 235 N. Chicago St., Joliet, IL 60432. For more information or to register in the ESL program, call (815) 280-1334 or (815) 280-1300 or visit Adult Education.

  • From GED to Degree at Joliet Junior College - Fredy Rodriguez

    Four years ago Fredy Rodriguez came to Joliet Junior College with one need, and that was to pass his General Educational Development test. The Joliet resident not only needed to pass a high school equivalency test to meet employer requirements, but he also wanted to explore opportunities to advance his career. Little did he know that a stop in JJC's Adult Education Department for a GED would lead him down a path to earn an Associate in Applied Science degree.

    Fredy already had several years of work experience when he came to JJC, but the thoughts of going back to school were a bit overwhelming. He explained that his teachers in the GED program eased this transition. He said, "My experience was great! I hadn't been in school for 20+ years, and the instructors made it so relaxing to learn but they held us accountable."

    He explained that mid-way through the semester staff from Adult Education's College/Career Transition Services came to meet with his class. Michelle Lyman college & career transition specialist met with the group, explained the various services available and asked students what they planned to do next. Fredy indicated that his primary plan was just to get back to work. However, Michelle inspired him to think about taking the next step into college-level courses.

    With Michelle's encouragement and support from his family, Fredy decided to go for it. Michelle assisted him with filling out all of the required paperwork for admissions and financial aid as well purchasing books. She even offered to give him a campus tour to help make the transition to college courses as seamless as possible.He explained how this really made a difference in deciding to pursue something more than his GED. Fredy stated, "I don't think there would've been a next step if it wasn't for her [Michelle]."

    Fredy had such a positive experience that he also encouraged his wife to complete the GED program. Michelle said, "I am so proud of Fredy's accomplishments and honored to have helped him begin his college career at JJC. To be honest, I was completely overwhelmed when Fredy told me that I had impacted his and his family's life as well. It's accomplishments like Fredy's that inspire me to be the best Transition Specialist and Advisor I can be. Our Adult Ed. students deserve it!"

    His first semester of college went well and Fredy was ready to learn more. He began to envision how combining a degree with his professional work experience would help advance his career into a management role. At that moment, he decided to continue towards earning an associate degree. However, the road wasn't always easy. It was a balancing act to juggle working full-time, taking classes and being there for his family, which includes three children. He even had the unique aspect of having some of the same general education classes and instructors as his daughter who was also a JJC student at the time.

    Fredy took several technical courses in areas related to electrical and robotics. His experience in industry also helped him through some of the coursework. He described how one of his instructors encouraged him to bring in a motor he repaired at work and explain to the class how he fixed it.

    He also appreciated how much the instructors worked with him to help them succeed. He said that one day he was coming to class right from work and had a paper due. He didn't have a printer available but the teacher helped him find a printer on campus to make sure his assignment would be turned in on time. On another occasion, Fredy had to leave class early to tend to his job and repair equipment that broke. His teacher allowed him to leave class and worked with him to figure out the best solution so he could still complete his assignment. Fredy added, "How is the program not helping you try to succeed?"

    Another source of inspiration actually came to him from a poster that's in one of the technical labs. It says, "Don't give a man a fish, teach them how to fish." Fredy explained how taking classes at JJC has helped him to grow professionally. He said, "Before all I did was replace parts, but never knew why. Now I know why and I can even troubleshoot down to the board level. It has given me more perspective."

    In May 2016, Fredy earned his Associate in Applied Science degree and Certificate of Achievement in Industrial Electrical/Electronics. He also earned a Certificate of Completion in Electrical/Electronics the previous year.

    Since then Fredy has been continuing to work in industry as a Biomedical Technician for a local dialysis company and is ready to take his education another step further. He is planning to attend the Southern Illinois University weekend program at JJC to earn his bachelor's degree. It has taken a little time, but now he will be ready when an opportunity presents itself to advance his career.

    The Adult Education's College/Career Transition Services program at JJC has trained advisors available to assist eligible students with making the transition from adult education classes to college-level courses and programs. Michelle added, "The best advice I have given students is not to let fear of the unknown stop them from achieving their goals. My job is to help them navigate the college transition process. This helps de-mystify college and reduces the anxiety many students feel when they are getting started."

    For more information about this and other Adult Education programs at JJC, call (815) 280-1300, email jjcdafs@jjc.edu or visit Adult Education.