“I couldn’t read until a few years ago. Now, I love to read,” Earlene said. “I read all the time. I can borrow books from all the libraries—Fairfax, Milton, Essex, Colchester and Georgia. My favorite is Georgia (her hometown). The librarian knows me and she’s so nice.”
Earlene is currently working her way through Fannie Flagg’s book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. The novel was a high school graduation gift from her employer.
Reading was not always a part of Earlene’s life. She experienced learning difficulties in school and left at 16 to enter the workforce. She spent five decades of her life unable to read. Scanning a newspaper to catch the latest headlines, completing a job application, reading directions in a recipe, paying a bill and filing taxes become gargantuan tasks when one is unable to crack the code of letters and their pronunciation.
Earlene mustered her courage and showed great determination when she enrolled as a student at Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) in St. Albans. She committed to learn to read AND earn her high school diploma—at age 58. It took many hours of supportive instruction by teachers and hard work on Earlene’s part. She achieved her goal, graduating high school in June 2020, amidst a pandemic.
“I’m really proud of my diploma,” Earlene said. “When I fill out job applications, I feel so good that I can say that I graduated.”
“Leigh Smith (one of her VAL teachers) was wonderful,” Earlene said. “I asked if I could visit her ELL (English Language Learning) class. I learned so much from that class. I met students who were from all over the world—including a judge from Algeria and a nurse from Morocco.”
“Earlene’s greatest skill was her voice,” said Amy Cowan, High School Completion Plan Manager for VAL, in St Albans. “She spoke up when she needed help, advocated for herself and others, and was grateful for every opportunity she had.”
“Earlene’s presence in my ELL classrooms benefited everyone,” Leigh Smith said. “She was able to work on her reading and writing skills through another lens — even getting through Little Women with my advanced class — and she gained even more confidence by contributing to my students’ oral skills as she modeled native speech and cultural norms. I remember stopping a few times and checking my own understanding of an idiom or two with Earlene. She was super!”
Earlene’s story reminds us that it’s never too late to learn.