Nancy was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, along with her 12 brothers and sisters. “Both my parents were Puerto Rican and extremely strict. Although, my Mom was a single parent raising us all, my dad was definitely involved in our upbringing. While in Puerto Rico, my mom dropped out of school in the 5th grade,” she said. Her mother’s English was limited and public assistance helped make ends meet, but they struggled. “My mother always taught us to “do the right thing.” She made sure that we went to school every day and talked to us about succeeding in life and how not to follow in her footsteps,” she said. But at the age of sixteen, Nancy found herself pregnant. And, in 1981, she dropped out of high school and ran away to Boston with her baby’s father. After six months of enduring a physically and emotionally abusive relationship, it faltered. “I really didn’t want to face my mother and certainly not my father,” she said.
In 1984, Nancy moved to the Bronx. By the time her son started school, she had already begun the process of researching and enrolling in various schools to try to complete her goal – obtaining her High School Equivalency diploma. But, for various personal reasons including a number of deaths in the family, she dropped out. “I was under a lot of pressure and emotional stress.” In 1994, she became pregnant and gave birth to another child, a girl. While the struggles continued, Nancy held numerous jobs. Among them, baby-sitting and cleaning jobs. In addition, she volunteered at PS 96 in Harlem. “I was under a lot of stress, pain some depression. . . And, the jobs were inconsistent because I didn’t have an education,” she said.
Then, in 2007, she revisited the idea of going back to school and getting her High School Equivalency diploma. But, once again, Nancy was met with obstacles. “One of my sisters was disabled and my entire family thought it was my responsibility to be one of her primary caretakers. They relied on me to take my sister to all her appointments and to truly be her advocate. They thought I had the time,” she said. In addition to accompanying her sister to medical appointments, the deaths continued to take an emotional toll on Nancy. But, although she was discouraged, she never forgot the importance of obtaining her diploma. She truly believed that it was simply temporarily on hold. In the meantime, she bought High School Equivalency practice books and even went to a local high school to take the test. “I really wasn’t ready or prepped,” she admitted. “I didn’t pass, but I really felt determined this time and started doing my own research online for the best schools that had a prep class for the exam.” The Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center was the first site to show up on her search. She believed that it was “a good sign.”
In 2014, Nancy finally took the leap and attended an Information Session, TABE tested and enrolled in the MEOC’s High School Equivalency program. “I went through the entire process. I wanted this. And even though I struggled to do well in all my classes, especially with math, I was there every day,” she said reflectively. Nancy was on a personal mission to succeed. And, because of her determination and seriousness, several of her classmates began asking her questions about solving complicated mathematical equations. “I exchanged numbers with my classmates and was so happy to help them. We supported each other,” she beamed.
And, in September 2015, it certainly paid off. Nancy was awarded her High School Equivalency diploma. “Thank You Jesus! I passed,” she shouted.
Nancy is now college-bound and plans to enroll in the MEOC’s College Prep program in January. “I’m fifty-one years old and want to prove to my children and grandchildren that whatever you want in life, you have to work for it. I want to scream and tell them not to ever give up,” she said.
SUNY Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center
163 West 125th Street, 15th Floor
New York, NY 10027