Noelia Ramirez

Soledad Adult School & Community Education Center

Noelia Ramirez was a good student as a child. She was in advanced classes and the GATE program throughout her early education. She consistently received good marks and the praise of her teachers. In 7th grade she was in pre-Algebra math and "college bound." In addition to her good grades, she loved music, always finding time to practice with her friends and dreaming of one day having her own band.

Then she started high school challenging herself with all college preparatory courses. The first semester she maintained her good grades and found schoolwork "a piece of cake." She gathered many friends who were on the same track as she was; smart, good grades, intent on going to college. All were very academic and focused on school. But Noelia had other friends too. "Slacker rocker friends" diametrically opposing her academically minded friends. With neither side understanding her affinity with the other, Noelia found herself more and more an outsider. The peer pressure was intense, and she started spending more and more time with her rocker-music friends and less time studying. By the second semester her grades tumbled to D's and F's. She stopped trying to get good grades. She would rather play music. It wasn't uncommon for her to skip classes deliberately so she would get detention. After all, her musician friends were there!

Through the intervention of a high school counselor, she found her way to Soledad Adult School and enrolled in a cosmetology course through ROP.

Living in foster care at that time, Noelia was responsible for the care of 3 young children ages 9, 5 and 3. She was responsible for getting them ready for school, feeding, bathing and providing the bulk of the day-to-day responsibilities of child care. These household tasks, and the lure of her newly formed punk rock band, made it easy to not go to class. But, the counselors and teachers knew Noelia's potential and wanted her back in a high school program. They started a campaign to convince her to return to school. Linda Coyne, Principal of Soledad Adult School kept pushing Noelia to earn her High School diploma rather than be satisfied with a GED; "You will never regret getting your High School Diploma Noelia. I know you can do it."

Another key influence on Noelia was her younger sister, Laura Manzo. She was the complete opposite in terms of educational goals. As Laura continued high school as an honor roll student and struggled to plan her college education, Noelia skipped her adult school classes and disappeared for weeks at a time.

It was Laura's junior year in high school when Noelia, who was supposed to be a senior,  was struck by the realization that her younger sister would graduate before her.  Laura asked Noelia point blank, "what do you plan to do with your life?"

Noelia, who always had an answer to her younger sister's questions, was taken aback. This time, she didn't have a ready answer. She began to feel depressed and unfocused. Her motivation was renewed because of her sister's insistence that she continue to at least finish high school, and she decided she wanted to graduate – if not before Laura, then with Laura.

Her resolve was met with encouragement and guidance from two caring teachers at Soledad Adult School; Sarla Coberly, and Alice Wilson, both Independent Study Teachers. They were always there to help and encourage Noelia. They helped her juggle her family commitment, her music practice and her coursework. She discovered she needed to recover 35 elective credits in order to graduate and she set to the task; she was at the school every day doing whatever it took to get the job done. Her hard work paid off. She finished all the required credits in about 9 months. She had done it! Noelia and Laura would graduate from high school at the same time. But what was her next step?

Noelia never saw college as a goal while attending Soledad Adult School; her plans were to go back to the Regional Occupation Program and work on obtaining her beautician license, work at a salon, and play in her punk rock band on the side. At the suggestion of her teachers, Noelia took the college placement exam and scored in the 95th percentile. The extremely high score was a clear indicator that she would be successful in College. Without her knowledge, Noelia's teachers had sent in an application for the local Ratary Club scholarship. She won. Intending to surprise Noelia, Ms. Coberly and Ms. Wilson "almost had to kidnap" her to get her there when she didn't go.

Armed with having expenses covered for her first semester through the scholarship, her high scores, her willingness to work hard and new dedication to earn her college degree, Noelia again collaborated with her sister to tackle the challenges of college. They created a unique "tag-team" approach to taking classes. Laura would take a course in a subject area Noelia was weak in, then provide tutoring support the next semester when her sister took the course. Noelia would do the same — take a subject her sister was weak in, then support her while Laura took the course the following semester. The strategy worked, they both graduated from the community college two years after they started. Noelia earned an Associate of Arts degree in Behavioral Science. And set her sights toward her Bachelor of Arts.

Her success at Soledad Adult School set Noelia on a path to professional rewards, and outstanding individual success. She now holds two Bachelor degrees, one in Humanities with a concentration in religious studies, and a second degree in Italian from the CSU International Programs, Florence, Italy. In addition, she is a classically trained guitarist and used that skill to good advantage while studying in Italy playing in local coffeehouses and other venues. Her latest educational conquest came with the completion of her Master of Arts in Spanish. But her journey was not without significant challenges; one of the most difficult was to maintain her focus and determination to continue her Master's degree program after suffering the loss of a fellow family member to a murder. Although it took several years, she completed her Master of Arts in May of 2009.

Noelia now works at the Adult Education Office of the California Department of Education. Her future plans include going back to college to obtain a Masters in family and marriage counseling with a specific goal to help students such as herself where traditional school models do not always fit the student well. She wants to guide them to other alternatives so they can achieve their goals. She also maintains a connection with music that continues today with her band "Social Concern" where she is the drummer. She is a shining example that adult education students who "march to a different drummer" have much to offer all of us.

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