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Student finds path to dental career through HEP
Photos and Story by Janis Nichols
There are only 45 students in the June graduating class, but the size of their dreams could be measured in square miles.
The High School Equivalency Program (HEP) at the Rock Creek Campus of Portland Community College actively recruits migrant and seasonal farmworkers who have dropped out or simply did not have the opportunity to obtain their high school degree. The average student is 34 years old with a job and a family. In shorthand, the program is a Spanish GED program focused on moving students into the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program at Rock Creek, which can later be a conduit to college-level studies. For most students it’s an uphill slog and it’s also very successful.
Beto Espindola, program manager since its inception five years ago, knows his students and their stories intimately, and says their intensity and dedication is what drives the program.
“The majority come to us with a sixth to ninth-grade education and most struggle with the English language,” Espindola said. “We assess each student not by English language proficiency, but by his or her level of commitment.”
One of those committed students is Yessica Nieto. Born in Matamoras, Mexico, she has been in the United States for 17 years. Through HEP she earned her GED, worked her way through the ESOL Program, and today has her sights set on a career as a dental assistant. She’ll know in June if she has been accepted into the program at PCC’s Sylvania Campus.
Nieto will serve as guest speaker at her own HEP graduation ceremony at the Rock Creek Campus. All graduates, family members and friends are welcome to attend the ceremony at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, June 6, Event Center, Building 9.
“HEP was perfect for me,” Nieto said. “Most of the work is one-on-one and we work in small groups. The students really support each other and the teachers are very encouraging. My math class with Mr. Scott Lowrey was a challenge, but I was able to use what I had learned when I was preparing for my GED.”
Her appreciation of her math teacher was reciprocated.
“Yessica provides living proof that it is never too late to be successful with one’s education; the important thing is to never give up,” Lowrey added. “Her determination and focus enabled her to advance, and finally get her GED, despite the challenges of raising a family.”
While math was difficult for Nieto, her college writing class with instructor Cody Luff found her willing to go the extra mile and then some.
“I love A’s,” she said. “I was willing to do three re-writes for an A.”
Her determination did not go unnoticed.
“As a student, Yessica worked exceptionally hard and strove for excellence, and while this is highly admirable,” Luff said. “It was Yessica’s inclusion of her humanity, dignity, and curiosity that shaped her time here at PCC. I am proud to know Yessica, and I have no doubt that her talents and compassion will lead her to success.”
When asked where her confidence comes from, Nieto answered, “It comes from knowing what I want to do, knowing what my goals are. I am a role model for my younger brother who is in high school and for my seven-year-old son. Because of HEP, my family knows about college and that it’s never too late.”