The Realization of a Dream
How the Literacy Network Transformed My Life
BSLN student Michael Stephen completes his 18 week Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio.
My story begins about four years ago when I picked up a newspaper and read about the Bedford-Sackville Literacy Network. I was forty-six at the time, on Canada Pension disability and very much in need of a "lifeline". In 1985 I had bent over to pick something up at work, and stayed that way. After numerous episodes of this happening, it was finally determined that I had the opposite of a slipped disc. One of the vertebras in my lower spine had slipped out of place. I was told that this was a defect in the way my spine had formed at birth. There was a surgical procedure that could correct it, but I was also told this normally occurs further up on the spine and in my case it was at the base of my spine. This meant that the sciatic nerve (the longest nerve in the body as it extends across the lower spine and down the back of both legs) was being irritated. The surgery made sure the vertebra would not slip again, but to this day my mobility at times is diminished and my legs give me a lot of trouble. I had the surgery and in 1986 was unable to continue at my job. I was working in the stores department at the old IWK Hospital. This was before they had merged with the Grace.
I have always worked at manual labor jobs, mostly at the low end of the pay scale, but I took pride in the fact that I could take care of myself. I had quit school in my third year of grade eight. I had failed grades primary, one, five, seven, and eight. My mother tells me that I was born with a learning disability and dad would not let her get help. Well, I don't know too much about that. Though I do not have a learned trade, which would have given me better employment opportunities, I have an insatiable desire to learn and I have turned out to be someone who doesn't know a lot about any one thing in particular, but I know a little about a lot of things! I was laid up for quite some time after my surgery and the rest of the time until about four years ago, I will just say, was wasted. The time is gone, I cannot get it back, move on. One day I found myself for the first time really taking stock of my life. What did I want? Where did I want my life to go? What! were my gifts? Were there areas of my life that needed work to make them better? Canada Pension had dangled a carrot in front of me in the form of an opportunity to get back to work. Up until that point if I felt I could go back to lose I ran the risk of losing my benefits if the job did not work out. Now I was being told that there was a program in place that would allow to at least explore the possibility and if things did not work out I could remain on my pension.
The first thing I wanted to do was to finish my education and get my grade twelve. Where to turn? I had been out of the system for so long I honestly didn't know where to start. I will say this much here about the "lost years". A good deal of it was spent in a deep depression that had me pretty much cut off from the rest of the world. Then came the day when I read about the Literacy Network and as the rest of this story will explain, I grabbed on and I haven't let go yet!
The first thing the network did for me was to provide me with a G.E.D. book and a tutor. My tutor and I got along very well, thanks to my desire to learn. As I am always saying, "in any given situation there is always something new to learn". She was very patient and, at my request, she pushed me when she felt I could do better. Math was not one of her strong points and I knew that was where I would need the most help, so she enlisted the help of her son. He was a whiz at math and he helped me a great deal. When my tutor and I felt I was ready I wrote the G.E.D. tests and unfortunately I did not pass. This did not stop me in my desire to finish my high school education. We quickly realized that the mistake I had made was to have her son tutor me in algebra, instead of brushing up on the fundamentals first. I thought I had grasped the concept but obviously I hadn't. By this time he had other commitments and could not continue. So the network found me a math tutor!! . This lady had taught high school math all her life and I am working with her now. Her method of teaching is to concentrate on the basics and if you know these well enough the algebra is not a problem. What makes working with her easier is what I have I have already learned about the subject. When I wrote the tests I passed all but the math, so that is all we have to work on, which of course makes it a little easier. She is slowly and methodically working towards the algebra and when, and only when, she feels I am ready, I will write the tests again.
Through the literacy network I have also completed a "Portfolio Development Course", where I learned to compile documentation on every learning experience I have had, as well as writing my life story and putting it all together in a portfolio. Through this course I also learned to use a digital camera and made a video presentation based on what I had learned. I am involved with fund raising with the network and they know they can rely on me in whatever other areas they think I may be able to help. The first goal I have set for myself when I get my grade twelve is to become a tutor with them since I owe them so much.
You would think that this was enough, but there is more! . I am a fledgling writer and the network has helped to get me published. I have had stories in the "Over The Mountain" series (nos. 5 and 6) published by the adult learning division of the Department of Education. In 2002 I was also published as part of the "WORD ON THE STREET" under a Federal Government initiative. Thanks to the recent acquisition of a computer, I am now doing research on a major work that I hope to have completed before the end of the year.
So much has changed in my life in the past four years that I don't even recognize the person who first came into contact with the network. Yes, they were there in their official capacity to assist me in my adult learning, but it has changed every aspect of my life.
I am very involved with my church and community, and though I will not be able to return to work, I have had so many opportunities to learn come my way, that I am busy enough. You have to understand, this is coming from a person who three years was basically just existing from one day to the next. I am not buttering this story up for the sake of the network I represent; my life has completely turned around 360 degrees as a result of one phone call four years ago. You will not find a more staunch supporter of literacy networks and the much-needed assistance they give to those to make a difference in their lives. They sure made a difference in mine!