Submitted Sheena Sewell (right) started attending Volunteer State Community College on Monday, May 20 to study computer programming after completing the Macon County Adult Education Program, and credits her husband Randall Sewell (left) for taking on some of her usual roles at home so she could attend night classes.

Submitted

Sheena Sewell (right) started attending Volunteer State Community College on Monday, May 20 to study computer programming after completing the Macon County Adult Education Program, and credits her husband Randall Sewell (left) for taking on some of her usual roles at home so she could attend night classes.

Sheena Sewell left high school at 16 to take care of her first child and gave up on earning her GED (General Educational Development) certificate at 18 after failing the test twice.

More than 20 years later, Sewell, 39, is studying computer programming at Volunteer State Community College after receiving her high school equivalency (HiSET) from Macon County Schools' adult education program.

"What helped me push through was my kids, and showing my youngest daughter that if I can do this, she can too," Sewell said. "She's 13 and not sure if she wants to go to college, but she's really smart."

Sewell balanced her class schedule with her family life and job at Walmart while in the program, often attending testing sessions until 7 p.m. after leaving work.

"There was a lot of crying, and the day of the test was so stressful, I had a friend read my results," Sewell said. "The teachers (Macon County Adult Education instructor June Smith and District 3 Adult Education Paraprofessional Daneta Shoulders) were very helpful on anything I needed to know, and I had a lot of questions. They had faith in me, and that helped me believe in myself that I could get it done."

Ultimately, Sewell completed the program on Dec. 5, approximately a month after enrolling.

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"The program is very individualized," Shoulders said. "We've had students complete the course within a month, and we've had others finish in closer to a year depending on what their schedule is."

Shoulders credits Sewell's quick completion of the program to a positive attitude and determination.

"Sheena was a pleasure to have in the program," Shoulders said. "She was a working mother juggling family, a full-time job and classes, and she made it all work. If a student believes in themselves, we're there to help them every step of the way."

The program, which is focused on testing but includes a classroom component, is free of charge to students and includes referral services. Students must complete their work on-site, whether that work is testing or classroom assignments.

"They begin with an online test of basic skills in reading and math so we can see what level they're at," Shoulders said. "If all they want to do the first day is registration and orientation, that's fine. Every student has a different situation and a uniqueness."

From there, students meet with instructors to figure out whether to move into classes, schedule tutoring or move on to the official practice test.

"I wasn't involved in the classroom part of things, because they're held during the day and I had work," Sewell said. "I was the only one there at night, and I think that helped me focus on my work when I might have ended up talking to people."

Even the classroom component aims to be an individualized experience for students. Sessions are held on Wednesdays (from 8:30 until 11 a.m. and from 4:30 until 5:30 p.m.) and Thursdays (8:30-11:30 a.m.), with testing hours available throughout the week.

"The teacher may have a group working on math if all the students would benefit," Shoulders said. "Otherwise, they'll focus on wherever your weakness lies, so you may be working on social studies and timelines while someone else is writing an essay."

While completing the program, Sewell was still unsure what she wanted to do, but she eventually determined that her own strength was in working with computers.

"My son helped me decide," Sewell said. "Usually, I'm able to figure out anything I need to with the computer, and my in-laws are always calling me about helping them with theirs."

As she moves forward into her first semester at Vol State, Sewell plans to explore the field's possibilities and figure out a career plan.

"When you're 16 years old and you've just had your first kid, you have to break things down to what you can handle at the time," Sewell said. "Adult education is a great program for any kids that are in a situation like I was."