“THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IS BROKEN”
As I pack away the leftovers from the lunches we serve to our students every day, these words ring out from the other side of the wall, like an unexpected crack of thunder on a quiet afternoon.
Actually, hearing such statements is not uncommon at HEBCAC YO. The woman who has shouted this particular phrase is a visitor for the day – a graduated student who has returned to speak to current students (at the center, “graduated” refers to a previous YO! attendee that has successfully passed their GED test and has been consistently employed or attending college since). The center frequently asks its graduates to return and motivate current students to meet their personal goals, or to encourage them to continue attending their GED classes.
Having finished with the lunches, I reenter one of the classrooms – class is in session and the students are hard at work, surrounded by motivational posters and quotes written on whiteboards. A personal favorite around the center is “Education is the fight for your life.” It was actually written on the white board by last year’s CIIP intern, and I hear it quoted at least a few times a week by teachers and students alike.
I have had the privilege of growing up in a household where education was not just emphasized, but prioritized. The students who come to classes at HEBCAC YO are all high-school dropouts, most of whom have not had access to the same quality of schooling that many people (myself included) sometimes take for granted, and many who have not received the lifelong support from their schools and families that I often do not think twice about but consistently benefit from.
Later that day, I am lounging on a big plushy couch with K, a 23 year-old student with a “Cherish” tattoo snaking around her wrist and a natural affability. Out of the different roles I play around the center, my favorite has without a doubt been the moments during which I find myself sitting on one of the couches with one or two other students, and we’re just talking. I love these moments because of the random anecdotes the students share – some hilarious, some heartbreaking, but all a little glimpse of the lives they lead outside the walls of HEBCAC YO. As I sit there listening to K, I am blown away by the things she has experienced in her 23 years: a childhood of emotional abuse by the grandmother who raised her; reaching a breaking point, rebelling, and getting