Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

ALC achiever Joyce Bates an inspiration to her kids — and her mom

When Strong City’s Adult Learning Center holds its annual Achievement Night on Tuesday, June 12th, you can count on Joyce Bates being there. She passed all four sections of the GED last year – in fact, she’s had her diploma since August. But she says she wouldn’t miss the chance to return to the ALC and celebrate along with the other adult learners who’ve reached educational milestones since last year’s Achievement Night.

For the past 25 years, Bates, 43, has worked hard in health care and raised five children. When she found herself out of work last year, she decided to take the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and finish her high school education. Bates believed in the importance of education and pushed her own kids hard; all of them finished school, and the youngest is a college junior. But after having her first daughter at age 15 and her second daughter the following year, Bates dropped out of high school at 17 and became a nursing assistant.

“My children are grown – I pushed them all through school,” Bates said. “So I thought, ‘Let me go now.’ I wanted to go back and see what I can do.” She started taking classes at the ALC in January 2017, and began taking GED subject tests that March. Just five months later, she had passed all four sections. “I never knew I would get my GED so fast,” she said.

This wasn’t Bates’ first attempt to further her education. She tried a different school a few years ago, but it didn’t work out. This time, she went onlineand started searching for facilities in Baltimore offering free GED preparation, which soon led her to the ALC. Bates found that she was already strong in reading but was definitely going to need a refresher in math.

“I enjoyed school a lot,” Bates said. “Cathleen [O’Neal] is the best ever – she makes it so easy for you, explains it very well. I never had a teacher like that in my life.”

ALC Assistant Director Cathleen O’Neal says the mission of the ALC is to empower adults to meet their goals, which they do by “meeting learners where they are and tailoring instruction and support services to their needs.” The ALC serves 600 learners a year and has been doing it for 29 years.

The ALC believes that Adult Education is the backbone of workforce development. Though Baltimore has a number of workforce training programs, many residents lack a sufficient educational functioning or English speaking level to qualify for the programs without completing adult education classes first. With six full-time employees, 22 part-time instructors, and 50 volunteers, the ALC gives learners the opportunity to increase their skills and self-confidence, making them more eligible for jobs with family-sustaining wages, better equipped to support their children’s academic development, and more civically engaged.

When Joyce Bates and her fellow learners are celebrated at next week’s Achievement Night, her kids will be there cheering her on. So will someone else who was so inspired by what Bates accomplished, she decided to sign up for classes at the ALC: her mother. Bates has become something of an evangelist for going back to school. “My mother is going now, my aunt is going in September, and an older coworker of mine is going too,” she says.

Bates, who lives in the Pen Lucy neighborhood, plans to continue her education in the fall at Baltimore City Community College. She’s not certain what career path she wants to pursue but thinks she’ll continue in the health professions, perhaps exploring a longtime interest in mental health. “I’m thinking about psychiatry,” she says. “I’d like to go all the way through, become a doctor.”