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Shanda's Story: My Second Chance

Written by: Shanda Laberge


My reading problems have affected my life in countless ways.  From childhood on, I had always had problems with reading and spelling. But, my story starts in high school.  Very seldom did I attend classes while I was enrolled in high school. I was what people would call a troubled teen. My reading skills were such an embarrassment, it made me hate school.

My last memory of school is one that has continuously haunted me; it’s of my grade ten cooking class. The teacher in this class had everyone participate in reading through a story about salmonella poisoning. She began assigning parts of the story to each student, and we were to read it out loud. I remember sitting at that table, praying that my name wouldn’t be called. When it was called I had a silent panic attack, my legs had gone numb and I felt like I was going to pass out. At that moment when my name was called I had said to the teacher, “I’d rather not read today.” Her reply was, “Yes, Shanda I want you to read this paragraph.” Now, I was feeling ill, and I didn’t know how to get out of it. So I tried pleading with her by saying, “Please, I don’t want to.” At this moment my classmates had started laughing at me. I was extremely embarrassed, and walked out of the classroom. This was one of the last days I spent in that school.

Due to the fact that I had dropped out of school and was without responsibility, my Mom felt it was time for me to get a job. I did as she said, and started job hunting. Without my knowledge, my Mom had talked to her boss at work; he had agreed to give me a job in his factory. I took this job gladly. I would have never been able to make a proper resume or fill out a job application. With this job came more responsibilities, I was to pay my Mom rent and gas money for my rides to work. At this time I was only fifteen years old and had never had to be this accountable before. This would be the time when I would figure out what the real world was really like.

As life went on, and years had passed me by I had been through a few different jobs, and never really liked any of them. Due to the fact that I decided to become a mother at the young age of 18, I had no choice but to keep jobs I didn’t like. Often my reading problems would interfere with my job. I believe that is what caused me to dislike my jobs even more. How could someone who was hiding the fact that she couldn’t read, ever feel comfortable in a work environment?

Once my child became of school age, I really started to dread the fact that she would soon start to figure out that her Mommy wasn’t able to read. This was one of the worst feelings I had ever experienced. I couldn’t imagine myself trying to explain to a four year old that I couldn’t read. I knew something had to be done.

The next step I took was to admit my problem to others and try to find help. I did some searching to the best of my abilities at the time, and ended up finding a private tutor.  This only lasted a few months, due to the fact that the cost to have her help was just too much for me to afford.

At this point I had quit a job working for a collections agency. I had a hard time keeping up with the reading that was required. I was always very uncomfortable at this job. Quitting it was not easy on my home life. I had no income and that alone was a huge problem. If it wasn’t for my Mother helping me I would have been without a place for my child and me to live. I found myself feeling like a huge disappointment and didn’t know if I would ever be able to change.  I had fallen into a depression. I couldn’t see myself ever being self sufficient, and didn’t know how I would ever be able to provide for my child.

After a few months of not having any income, I had two choices, go get help from social assistance or have no place to live. My Mother could no longer provide for my child and me, so I did what I had to do.  At first I was extremely ashamed that I had to go down this road, but soon realized this could be my second chance. I was always fortunate to have social workers who were always kind to me, and were willing to help as much as possible.

My second chance came when I had a conversation with a worker about the possibility of a future with a grade twelve. The worker referred me to a program that social assistance runs called the L.E.A.P. program. This program helps young people with children reach their goals of furthering their education. Before I could ever think about entering a credit program, I first had to correct my reading difficulties. During a meeting with a L.E.A.P. counsellor we discussed where I would be able to go to receive help. This is when I was introduced to the Adult Literacy & Basic Skills Program. She made a call to the school and left a message saying who I was and what I was looking for.

The next day I received a phone call from the teacher of this program. She thoroughly explained how the program worked and what they offered. I was to attend an appointment where I would have an assessment done. This would determine the level I was at, and whether or not this program would be beneficial to me. I was tremendously nervous about being tested. When I arrived I was greeted by a kind teacher who made me feel quite comfortable. This made things much easier for me to complete the assessment.

Once I was finished writing the assessment we went over what the results were. She felt the program would work for me, so we discussed a start date. I wanted to start right away, but my child would need to be put in daycare while I was in school. Therefore, I would need to take a week or so to get everything organized.

My first day in the classroom was somewhat nerve-wracking, but this feeling soon faded away. The classroom environment was so much different from anything I had ever seen before. Everyone was welcoming and accepting of each other, also willing to help one another when needed. This was the complete opposite of any classroom I had every experienced.  I was not going to be made to read out loud, unless I was willing to. I was delighted that I would be able to do it when I was ready. I couldn’t have asked for a program that was more suited to help me.

I have now spent a little over a year and a half in this program. It has helped me tremendously. I’m doing things now I never thought I could be capable of.  Currently, I am attempting to complete a G.E.D. online preparation course. This will prepare me for the test. My goal is to get a G.E.D. diploma, and hopefully attend a post-secondary program. I’m not sure what kind of program yet. I would just like to find something that would help me to have a career that will be enjoyable, and allow me to provide for my child.

I am forever grateful to the kind and understanding people who have helped me get to where I am.  If it weren’t for these people running these programs I don’t think I would be where I am today. Who knows if I would have gotten my second chance?