DESPITE OBSTACLES, ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE WINNER RECLAIMS HER CONFIDENCE

From high school dropout to 4.0 college student, Jana Carver refused to accept failure.

By Carla Kucinski

Jana Carver received the 2017 NCCCS Academic Excellence Award. (Carla Kucinski/GTCC)

Jana Carver received the 2017 NCCCS Academic Excellence Award. (Carla Kucinski/GTCC)

Shame.

Self-doubt.

Helplessness.

These are the things that Jana Carver carried for most of her life. Carver was home schooled for her entire education, but when her parents separated, and she and her mom and sister moved into her grandparents’ house, she started to slip in her studies. Carver says her home life fell apart, and so did her education. She dropped out in 11th grade.

With an unstable home life, school was no longer a focus, and eventually Carver says she just stopped trying and nobody noticed. But deep down, she still possessed a great desire for learning. She had an inquisitive mind and wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible. Growing up, one of her favorite activities was reading her grandfather’s set of encyclopedias and sharing random facts with her family. But her home schooling experience whittled away her confidence until she felt powerless and incapable of persisting in her education. She had fallen so far behind in her studies that she felt she would never be able to catch up. College, she said, was a pipedream. In fact, it was barely on her radar and felt unattainable.

“I always wanted school; that was always my desire,” said Carver, 22 of Greensboro. “I didn’t have the power to change that.”

Not graduating high school began to haunt Carver, and seemed to permeate everything in her life, including how she saw herself. At the movie theater where she worked, her coworkers and peers would inevitably ask the questions:  “Where did you go to high school?” “What college are you attending?” She avoided forming friendships so that she wouldn’t have to share her story and dredge up the shame she tried to bury.

“I’ve always been ashamed of my education,” Carver said. “I took on my history in education as a personal failure, even though, in most ways, it was out of my control. I was also ashamed because I felt like I had to hide my struggle. I didn’t want anyone to know how bad it was because I was afraid they would think the same things I was thinking about myself. I thought I wasn’t smart enough to succeed. I didn’t realize that I just hadn’t been given the opportunity to do so yet.”

That opportunity came one afternoon, when she walked into Food Lion grocery store with her grandparents and saw GTCC’s Live & Learn course catalog in a magazine rack. She took it home, and a week later she worked up the courage to call and inquire about getting her high school equivalency diploma. She spent the next two years saving money to buy a car, a 1994 Honda Civic, so that she had transportation for school. She was riddled with self-doubt and scared of the unknown, nevertheless, she persisted.

“I needed to do this because it (not having a high school diploma) was holding me back,” Carver said. “That was my biggest obstacle: Me.”

Carver went on to earn her GED and graduate with honors. A month after earning her GED, she enrolled as a full-time student at GTCC and achieved a 4.0 while also working two jobs 40 hours a week.

Jana Carver graduated from the GED program with honors. (Carla Kucinski/GTCC)

Jana Carver graduated from the GED program with honors. (Carla Kucinski/GTCC)

Today, five semesters later, Carver is still thriving at GTCC. She is an active member and secretary of the Model UN Club, secretary of the Global Scholars Club, and vice chair of the City of Greensboro’s College Commission. In addition, she works part time as a marketing assistant in GTCC’s Office of Marketing and Public Information, where she writes feature stories and press releases.

But the greatest honor she received happened this month (April 2017), when she was awarded the North Carolina Community College System’s Academic Excellence Award, which is given to one student at each of the 58 North Carolina community colleges. She says receiving the award has made her reflect on where she started and how far she’s come. It’s also reaffirmed that she’s on the right track.

“When I found out I thought, ‘I’m a rockstar!’” she said laughing. “I thought back to where I was in 2014 and 2015 … it was a huge challenge for me. … I was like a little mouse. Now I’ve grown into myself. I’m more OK with who I am, and I’m not ashamed.”

Carver’s first instructor at GTCC helped her begin to remove the obstacles in her life. Kermit Britt, an Adult Basic Education math instructor, helped Carver find her confidence. He saw potential in her that she could not see. When Carver first came to GTCC, she had an 8th grade math level, and had to first pass Mr. Britt’s class before she could take the GED. She learned in his class that it’s never too late to begin her education and to never accept failure. He also instilled in her the importance of moving beyond her GED and enrolling in college classes.

“When I walked into that room for the first time, I felt like I was going to be judged,” Carver said. “Mr. Britt didn’t write me off.”

Britt describes Jana back then as quiet and insecure about math, as well as skeptical and a little reluctant. He remembers calling her to the board to work out a problem, and she was visibly having difficulty.

“And I told her, ‘Don’t let anything hold you hostage,’” Britt recalled. “That was impacting for her. …  There’s some monumental paths that she’s overcome and she moved at a quick pace. I did what I could to encourage her. … I cannot even guess how far she will rise but I do know if she continues on the track she is on now she will do a lot of wonderful things for other people. She has a heart for service. I can see her as a writer—writing books, writing children’s books. I don’t see any limits to her ability.”

Carver says she wouldn’t be where she’s at today if it wasn’t for her teachers in the GED program. In addition to Britt, GED instructors Karen Forster and Sarah McKoy constantly encouraged her to “keep going.”

“I had no idea what was possible for me,” Carver said. “I knew they wanted this for me. They saw me and saw where I could go. All I could see was where I was at and where I came from. … I wasn’t planning to be a college student because I didn’t think I had it in me. I had zero confidence.”

In fact, during her first semester, she put so much pressure and stress on herself that she felt like quitting. But Forster continued to check in periodically on her and reinforce: “You can do this.”

“For some reason, I believed her,” Carver said with a laugh.

Carver no longer thinks about quitting. Before coming to GTCC, she let her lack of confidence limit her possibilities. And now, all she sees are endless opportunities, she says.

These accomplishments remove my shame—where I came from, what I didn’t have,” she said. “I’m not a product of my circumstances anymore. I am who I am despite my circumstances.”

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