Never too late

Some come to prepare for better employment opportunities. Others have always wanted to earn their GED. Some want to be able to fill out their own paperwork or read a bus schedule for the first time. Every learner that comes into the Bedford-Sackville Learning Network (BSLN) has a story.
For some just walking through the door is a triumph.
“With the literacy problems in Nova Scotia, sometimes people are ashamed to come here,” says Paul MacNeil, the BSLN coordinator. “They don’t want people knowing they can’t read or write, add or subtract. If we get them in the door, we make them feel comfortable. We let them know that we can help and that they’re not alone.”
The BSLN provides free classroom and one-on-one education in math, reading, writing, computers, GED preparation and life skills to adult learners from the Bedford, Sackville and surrounding communities. It is one of 30 provincially funded community-learning networks across Nova Scotia.
Programs are offered from September to June, but individuals can enrol any time of the year. “We don’t turn anybody away no matter what level they are,” says MacNeil, adding that the latest learners ranged in age from 19 to 83. “There’s a place for everybody and a time for everybody, and we don’t rush anybody through.”
MacNeil also understands where they are coming from. “It’s funny how my life has come full circle because I was an adult learner,” says MacNeil. “I never finished high school when I was 17 or 18. I was an excellent student but then in junior high and high school, I had a lot of health problems. I missed a lot of school and ended up leaving high school and never graduated.”
While working for a steel plant back home in Cape Breton, MacNeil says he was probably laid off 20 times. “In my 20s and 30s and raising a family, I took any job that would come along, whether I worked on a grant or was on EI,” he says. “You name a program and I was probably on it. This is what happens with adults when they don’t have an education.”
In his late 30s, MacNeil completed his high school and GED through the NSCC. He continued his education, earning a bachelor of arts and bachelor of education, which allowed him to realize his true passion—teaching adult learners.
“I’m not any smarter than anybody else,” he says. “I have to work really hard at things. But that’s the key to it, work hard and it will happen,” he says. “We have many success stories with the people who really stick with the program here at the network too.”
Chatting over the phone with Paulette (last name omitted due to the Network’s mandate to respect learner confidentiality), MacNeil tells her to call any time she wants help with applying to college or searching for employment.
Paulette recently passed her GED exam, after completing a program at the BSLN. “I knew that some day I would have my Grade 12,” she shares. “It wasn’t something that I was going to give up on. It was just a matter of when it was the right moment. I felt this was my time to be able to finish something that I wanted to complete. I was so happy when I did.”
As a mother of three and caregiver for her parents, Paulette says the BSLN was very accommodating to her busy schedule. She also loved the positive and relaxed atmosphere compared to traditional classroom settings. “I could see where my strengths were more and being in that environment helped me to help other people,” says Paulette. “I really hope people will take the time to go through the program. Grade 12 is something that you need these days. My goal now is to go for office administration and I just feel like when the time is right, I’ll be able to do that.”
Those interested in making a difference in their community might also consider volunteering as one of the Network’s tutors. About 25 “wonderful people,” played this significant role last year, MacNeil says.
If you know someone that has low literacy skills or has not completed high school, encourage them to contact the BSLN, MacNeil urges. “They don’t have to stay in that situation their whole life,” he says. “People can change themselves. Sometimes they’re not sure how to do it or they just need that little nurturing at first. But when they reach that point in their own mind where they say ‘I can do it myself,’ it’s endless what they can do.”
Visit the Bedford-Sackville Learning Network office at the Sackville Sports Stadium (409 Glendale Drive, Lower Sackville).

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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