By Ashton Varner, VISTA Team Leader '19-20
Many know Fairbanks for its -40 degree winters. However, the community is much warmer than the weather it is known for. No matter its size, it has a small town vibe. It will not take long to win a 6 Degrees of Separation game. People know one another, neighbors look out for each other and we want each other to succeed.
Kim Green began pursuing her GED in 2012 but did not find success until years down the road. She knew having an education would help her get a better job but it was hard.
Those who guide adults through GED programs understand. Lisa Cogen began tutoring English at the Literacy Council of Alaska in 2017. She says school gets harder as a person is older due to the responsibilities life brings.
In 2017, Kim received a note from her doctor stating that, for a time, she would not be able to work. Her public assistance case worker pushed her to try to get her GED again.
Kim agreed. She didn’t want to waste time while she was out of the workforce. “I couldn’t do nothing,” she said.
That’s when Kim first met Lisa as her English tutor. She said Lisa was a good teacher who took time to break down concepts that tripped up her students. Kim appreciated the one-on-one care Lisa took with her.
Lisa saw potential in Kim. “I remember having good questions from her,” she said.
Unfortunately, Lisa did not get to see Kim through her GED journey. Kim became pregnant with her son and had to put her studies on hold.
As a teacher, not seeing final results can be a hazard of the job. Lisa takes moments of affirmation where she can, loving the moment when she watches students start to care. It helps to be around like-minded people such as her fellow tutors at the Literacy Council.
“They’re excited about it,” she said.
Lisa embraced the rare moment of seeing a finished chapter.
“I was a little, little piece of that,” she said. “It’s cool that she persevered.”
Since earning her GED, Kim has noticed the benefits.
“It opens up a lot of opportunities for me,” she said. “I think it helped me land [the VISTA] job.”
She plans to continue her education with the AmeriCorps VISTA end-of-service education award. Her interests include Certified Nursing Assistant certification and childcare.
Post-VISTA, Lisa has returned to her position with the borough school district as a special education teacher.
The AmeriCorps VISTA of Fairbanks office thanks Lisa and Kim for their summer service and wishes them all the best in their future.