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From Nigeria to nursing, Miriam moves toward her dream

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Joy Walczak
Kent ISD

Host Joy Walczak speaks with Miriam Ijor-Amachree, GED and CTE Adult Education graduate and Marty Marquardt, GED Instructor, Kent ISD Adult Education

When Miriam first moved from Nigeria to Michigan, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in nursing. With the help of Kent ISD Adult Education, she earned her GED and Pharmacy Tech CTE credentials setting her up for success in school and career

Joy Walczak (JW)
Welcome to the Your Dream Is Our Dream podcast where we celebrate student success one dream at a time. This program is made possible by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU. I'm Joy Walczak, and today we have with us Miriam Ijor-Amachree and she's a graduate of two Kent ISD adult education programs, along with her GED instructor, Marty Marquardt. Thank you for being here today.

Marty Marquardt (MM)
Good morning. Thank you.

Miriam Ijor-Amachree (MI) Good morning.

JW: Miriam, I'd love to ask you a little bit about your journey. You are here in America and you have been learning here. Can you tell us about where you're from and what brought you here today?

(MI) So, ma'am, you guys already know my name is Miriam. I was born in Grand Rapids, St. Mary's, which is like opposite where I work. But yeah, I was born there and then I moved back to Nigeria when I was about like four months old. You know, my mom, she was working in Nigeria and all my family was there. She really didn't have a reason to move. So we went back and I grew up there. Went to elementary school, went to high school in Nigeria. And then, you know, when I got ready for college, my mom was like, you know, well, why don't you just come over here, like your passport's collecting dust. So why don't you just use it and just come over here. I'm like, okay. And so she arranged with my distant, very distant cousin. And then I came over and my cousin was the one that told me about Kent ISD and Beckwith. So, basically, I already had my diploma and everything, but I just wanted to, he thought I had maybe, just having a feel of the education around here and the curriculum, because in my school, we did the British curriculum. So like, just wanted me to have a feeling, just be college ready. So we came here and just kind of brushed me up. Mr. Marty was very helpful with that, and here we are.

JW: Fantastic. So Marty, tell me about the programs that Miriam has been part of, and also how her GED journey is helping her with her dreams.

MM: So she, like a lot of our students, went through the GED program, and she went through because United States probably didn't recognize her high school diploma, which is the common case, for good or bad, but she finished her GED pretty much in a couple months, right? Two, three months. And then, really painless, like I promised. And then she went through the pharmaceutical tech class, which is a very tough class actually, and especially for non-American natives. The good news is her English is impeccable, so that's great. But we have a lot of students that go through that that just can't make it through because the vocabulary is just really, really strenuous.

JW: Yes, and that's a program where students can earn credentials, right?

MM: They can earn certificates and then they can through that program, and then, through the state, they earn, they're trained to do the test for the state.

JW: Okay. Well, that sounds like a terrific opportunity and students - tell me who's eligible to go through these programs.

MM: Most of our programs are eligible if you're part of the Kent ISD and the GED program. We have a few that are separate from other Kent ISD that might be the same, like there's two automotive programs, but ours is adult driven and the other one's for the students. The funding's a little different, but we have automotive. I mean, we've had IT this year, we're going to have a marketing. We have still phlebotomy, we have a CNA course, we had one on and off. We look to see what is more popular with the students at that time, and then the job 100s changes all the time, so, and then the needs from the state change, so. But we have a lot of those certificates they can earn and go right into a career if they want to.

JW: And what's the goal of those programs? To help set up students for success, and these are students who are adult learners?

MM: These are all adult learners, so those are the ones that are eligible. They need to be enrolled in our school at least once in the year, and stay enrolled. The goal is like, our funding is from the state, that it's all for jobs. Essentially, my job is to make Miriam more hire-able to the community by getting her GED. And our job as a whole is to get them a more career pathway, to get to where they want to be. And she chose this one in the medical field. She knew she wanted to do in the medical field. Not a big blood fan, so that was going to be a struggle. So we talked about that, but she's found another niche. And then, like that is really it. Like, everybody thinks you have to be their doctor or nurse - that's it, that's all. And there's a huge sub-support in the medical field in the hospitals.

JW: Tell us about what you're doing now Miriam you have earned your certification in pharmacy tech and you are now employed, which is fantastic. Congratulations! Tell us what you're doing and where you're working now.

MI: So like Mr. Marty really said, you can, it's not just about, like all tha health care has to offer is not just being a doctor or being a nurse or a pharmacist. There are many branches that pertain to the medical field. So right now I'm in dietary. And what I do right now is I work with the dietitians to find better meal plans for patients to fit their diets. You know, there are some patients that went through like lung transfers and like heart transfers and stuff like that and like some that have like liver problems and kidney problems, and some that just can't swallow well, because they had a trach in, and they're on pureed foods and stuff. So what we do is just try to find the diet that fits their circumstance, so they can be better nourished. And like my grandpa used to say, food is the first way to getting healed.

JW: It's true.

MI: Yeah, so we just try to help our patients through, you know, what they consume, and try to make sure they stay in their diets and help them recover.

JW: I understand you're also planning to attend Grand Rapids Community College in the fall.

MM: Yeah.

JW: What are you attending college for?

MM: So, I... honestly, what I wanted to do initially was to become a nurse, but I kind of started working with the dieticians, and I'm, you know, I'm just thinking of maybe...maybe I should change a little bit, you know? But the main focus is nursing, but I feel like I might change that. But for now, I think nursing is what I want to do when I want to go to college and like, you know, better prepare myself for my career and serve others with all I have.

JW: That's wonderful. Tell us how your education here at Kent ISD has helped empower you to make some of those dreams come true.

MI: Yeah, so when I came here, everything was just new to me. I was fresh in the country. I didn't know much. Mr. Marty was actually very helpful because I didn't know much about the history of this country or anything like that. I was learning how to use the bus. You know, and I didn't even know the currency that well. I remember one day I had a huge bunch of coins in my bag. They were jingling when I went, what? Everybody, was like, “Oh my God, this girl has some change!” You know, and then I was like, how do I use this? I don't know what to do with this. I'm like, Mr. Marty, he brought out a sheet and he was like, you know what, I want you to do this. You know, he taught me how to use the coins.

And in like two days I finished it. You know? So I mean, that was just by the way, but like Beckwith has taught me so much. It's not just like about my studies and like math and English and stuff. Like it's just kind of all rounded, you know? They don't just focus on one aspect to it. Like it's not just about education. Education is key of course, but I mean.

You need to prepare. They prepare us for the world around us right now, you know. Things are different here than it is in our country. So, you know, how to communicate better with people, how to, you know, do basic stuff. I was in a tight spot when I moved out of my uncle's house, and Mrs. Chep, she was a social worker. She was an angel to me. I would have been homeless without her.

And Mrs. Shana too, she was working, and Mr. Marty, and Miss Lindy, and they were just so helpful. You know, they didn't just take care of my educational needs, they took care of me as a whole, as a person. And if not, I don't think I would have been able to reach to where I am to work in Mary Free Bed. You know, it was actually Shana that actually spoke to the recruiting people, and they were like, hey, we have a candidate - could you interview Miriam and see if she's eligible for this role? And I've been working there for almost two years now and it has literally been the best thing. I could afford to live on my own. I can afford to stand on my feet, saving towards getting a car. You know, it's just been great. And I just, I'm really glad that I came to this school.

JW: Congratulations.

MI: Thank you.

JW: Marty, how does it make you feel to listen to Miriam's experience here? And how does it change what you do as a teacher?

MM: For her, for every one of her, I get like a dozen that don't make it. And so to hear this, it's gratifying. I mean, there's a lot that goes into, especially Adult Ed, that people don't understand. It's not just high school and K through 8. People don't, people understand that this is a different demographic. This demographic is the widest demographic you'll find in any public school. I mean, we have, Miriam's on the average, but we have 17 year olds to 60 year olds in our class that have different stories, similar stories, almost identical in some parts of the stories and they don't have the success that she does. So to see that she got through it is awesome.

JW: And also, tell us about how people can access this program, because my understanding is all students can attend at no cost to them.

MM: Yeah, to our detriment even. It's, we invite everybody and everybody's allowed to come. I mean, we get literally walk-offs the street to come in and sign in and whether they need an education. We have to go look through their transcripts and stuff. And most of them need a GED at least, and whether they're capable or not of completing it. We have a lot of people that just come in and It's free to them. They get, I mean, nothing but we get social work help for them. We have bus passes to get them to school. We've made it so easy just to type in Kent ISD Adult Ed and, boom, you're there to the application. You get an email sent and you set up a schedule for take a test. And we're right at a bus stop where I-96 meets one of the main strips of Grand Rapids. I mean, yeah, we've made it pretty much a premier spot.

JW: I'm glad that students have found this avenue to success. Miriam, have you shared your experience with other people? Would you encourage others to take part in this program?

MI: Yes, I actually have. Although where I work, they require you to have at least a high school equivalent or a GED or something or a high school diploma. So sometimes I meet people that didn't graduate for one reason or the other. You know, it doesn't necessarily mean that they weren't serious in school. You know, sometimes life happens and they just had to like leave and stuff. But I do encourage them and I just tell them that this is a very good opportunity to, you know, educate yourself and to push yourself forward. You know, you can't wish to move forward. You have to do something to move forward, you know.

JW: And you did work hard to get to where you are today. And you should be very proud of that. We're very proud of you.

MI: Thank you.

JW: You're welcome. Tell me a little bit more about the dreams you have for yourself. Where do you see yourself maybe in five years?

MI: In five to six years, I see myself graduating college. I see myself graduating college. It's about time. Because all my cousins, they all graduated college. Like, and my family education is very, very important. My grandfather, he was a reverend, and back in the 60s, he worked in a school, he was a science teacher, he taught biology, chemistry, and math occasionally. He worked in a missionary school. Back in the day, he was the first black teacher in that school, so he associated himself with a lot of intelligent people from different backgrounds. And like he understood the value of education. And his wife, at the time, my grandmother, she wasn't all that educated. You know, the stigma and stuff back in the day in Africa, they didn't really allow women to get educated, only the men. And my grandfather saw that and he didn't, he just, he put my grandma in school and she learned and she also became a teacher. She was able to take care of herself. They had a bunch of kids and they were all in school. You know, each graduated. My auntie's a pharmacist. My other auntie, she is a chartered accountant. My mom, she works in the, she's a Shell scientist. She worked for Shell for about 15 years. My uncle's an architect. My other uncle's a doctor, you know. We're all educated in our family and we all know the value of education. My cousins, they're all doing well in school. Most of them have graduated. Some are graduating this year, some are graduating next year, you know. Some are about to get into college, you know. So I am not about to be left behind. I am also going to strive as much as I can. It might be a little bit more difficult for me because I'm here on my own and my mom, she's not doing so well right now, but I will try as much as I can and I will realize my dream and I will move forward with my life.

JW: Miriam, thank you so much for your time today and for sharing your story.

MI: That's my pleasure.

JW: And Marty, thank you for helping to educate students like Miriam and others.

MM: Of course, thank you.

JW: And thanks to everyone listening, too. If you know a student of any age who dreams big, we would love to share their story. You can share your ideas and hear more dream stories at KentISD.org/yourdream. The Your Dream Is Our Dream podcast is presented by Kent ISD in partnership with WGVU.

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