La Familia Primero: Family First
Leadville mother of three earns diploma through CMC’s new Workforce Diploma Program thanks to flexible online classes
When Jessica Rea was 9-years-old, her family moved to Leadville, CO from Durango, Mexico. Similar to the original mining families who settled in Leadville in the 1800’s, Jessica’s family sought new opportunities to build a better future for the next generation.
Family is one of the most important institutions in Mexican culture. This “family first” value has carved a path for Jessica, who now has three children of her own. Jessica’s three sons, ages 6, 12 and 17, have lived in Leadville their entire lives. They’ve watched their mother juggle multiple jobs while balancing family life, supporting her sons and spending as much time with them as possible.
Overcoming Academic Obstacles
Five years ago, as a “dreamer” and DACA recipient, Jessica enrolled in GED preparatory classes at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. She began working with Kelli McCall, developmental education professor and high school equivalency program chair at CMC, to learn the skills necessary to pass the high school equivalency exam (formerly known as GED). But with three children at home—including a one-year-old—and a full-time job, Jessica struggled to attend the in-person classes.
“It was hard,” says Jessica, who is now thirty-three-years old, ”I had recently had my baby and had two other children to take care of. I had to go to work. When I wasn’t at work, I needed to focus on my family and I didn’t have much time for classes.”
Throughout the next few years, Jessica would re-enroll at Colorado Mountain College several times. Her oldest son would take care of the younger children while she was at work and at class. Each time she entered the classroom, she felt a pang of guilt for not spending time with her sons after working all day.
“It was hard to focus,” says Jessica, “When I would start and stop classes at CMC it was hard for me to remember everything I had learned before.”
Earning a Diploma at Home
Earlier this year, when all in-person classes shifted to virtual learning, Kelli McCall reached out to Jessica to encourage her to register one more time.
“Jessica worked on achieving this goal for years but was delayed by work and family life,” says Kelli, “This summer, due to COVID, we were able to move all courses online, which meant Jessica would be able to take advantage of the Workforce Diploma Program online.”
Jessica recognized the opportunity to finally earn her diploma without sacrificing time with her family. With Kelli’s encouragement, she enrolled again at Colorado Mountain College.
“She told me, ‘I know you can do it!’,” says Jessica, “I was like ok so this is a good opportunity for me to get my diploma, to work hard and I get to be at home and be with the kids.”
Over the summer, Jessica would spend a little time each day learning and studying. Virtual class time worked around her schedule, and she found it easier to fit in an hour or two of studying right at home.
“The flexibility of online learning worked better with my family,” says Jessica, who recently earned her adult diploma through CMC’s new Workforce Diploma Program.
Promoted and Proud
Just weeks after earning her diploma, Jessica applied for a new job at Lake County School District where she has been working as a custodian. She was hired as Lake County Intermediate School’s Special Education Paraprofessional, and began training in her new role this month.
“I am really proud of myself,” says Jessica,”I want to keep going to college. I’m looking forward to being someone now.”
Her accomplishment and newfound confidence has not gone unnoticed by her eldest, who at seventeen years old is starting to consider options for his future.
“He was like, ‘oh wow – good job mom!’ and ‘you can do it!’,” says Jessica, “I told him, I want you guys to become someone in life’. I’m trying to be a great example for them and maybe motivate them to go to college.”
After prioritizing family for many years, Jessica has discovered that she is putting her family first in a different kind of way. By believing in herself and earning her diploma, she has created new opportunities for a better career and ultimately a better life for herself and her sons. She hopes that her story will inspire others with similar obstacles to enroll at Colorado Mountain College and earn their diplomas.
“At the end of the day it’s going to be for you, not anyone else,” reflects Jessica, “Do it for yourself, to better yourself, to become someone better, to get a better job, to make more money, to help your family, or to be with your family. It’s worth the hard work.”