She may have stumbled, so to speak, into her teaching career, but the community is extremely fortunate to have Waxahachie resident Kelly Meeks in the position of Lighthouse for Learning GED instructor.

When Meeks was laid off from her job in the health insurance industry three years ago, she learned of an opening to work as an ESL and GED instructor.

“It was a part-time job and I was planning on doing it while continuing to look for other work. I did not ever anticipate staying with the program,” explained Meeks.

What happened, however, was that Meeks so thoroughly enjoyed the work, that she made the decision to continue working as an instructor.

Meeks taught ESL in Red Oak for one year for Navarro College. Then last year she taught GED classes for Lighthouse for Learning and she is teaching that same class again this school year.

Her GED students have ranged in age from 16 to mid-50s.

“It is a very diverse group,” said Meeks, who explained the satisfaction she gains from watching her students’ accomplishments.

“They first come into the class saying things like, ‘I cannot do math’ and ‘I cannot write a paper’ then one day you see that light bulb go on,” said Meeks, who reports the confidence students gain later when they solve a math problem.

“No one has taken the time to sit down and explain it to them,” said Meeks of her students. “That’s the problem for a lot of students in the class: They just needed a little more individual time. The way the class is set up, I’m able to give each student more individual time.”

Meeks said more and more jobs are requiring everyone to have at least a high school diploma or a GED.

“It’s almost impossible to find a job that doesn’t require a high school diploma or GED. Many are coming to get their GED because their current employer is making it a requirement. So it is very important to do it,” said Meeks, who added, “Plus, it is just very important for the sense of accomplishment. It doesn’t matter what your age, the sense of accomplishment is enormous. Just to be able to finally say ‘I get this’ and ‘I can do this.’ ”

Meeks said many of her students share with her the discouraging and demeaning remarks they’ve heard all of their life.

“They tell me they’ve heard, ‘You won’t make it.’ But I tell them, ‘Yes, you can. You can do this,’ ” Meeks said.

“Anybody can get an education. It’s not a matter of intelligence, it’s a matter of learning how to do it,” she said.

The GED classes, which are offered from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays at Waxahachie High School, began Sept. 10.

“We have what’s called an open enrollment, though, and it doesn’t matter how late in the semester it is. You can still join,” said Meeks of the courses, which follow the Waxahachie ISD school calendar.

The course is free, has no pre-registration requirements and is self-paced. Childcare is provided free of charge for children (18 months through fifth grade) of students.

The course is offered by the Navarro College Adult Education Department in cooperation with the Waxahachie Lighthouse for Learning Program.

“Navarro College Adult Education Department operates on grant money from the Texas Education Agency,” said the college’s adult education director, Sina Ruiz. “We serve four counties: Ellis, Navarro, Limestone and Freestone.”

Ruiz said the grant allows the Navarro College Adult Education Department to offer GED, ESL and literacy classes for free to its students.

“One of the things that is great about our program is that we try to offer it at locations convenient to where the needs are in our community. Our partnership with Lighthouse for Learning allows us the opportunity to use their facility (Waxahachie High School),” said Ruiz, explaining her goal is to offer a variety of class sites, as well as day and evening classes.

“Adult education to me is about second chances. It is more about the next step, not the last step, of your educational journey. We want to be able to offer these courses to those that need that second chance,” said Ruiz, who said she is very appreciative of the work Meeks does as an instructor.

“Kelly Meeks really reaches out to these students and she works very hard to be successful in her class. One of the things that I like about Kelly is that she set a goal with her class. They wanted to be the largest class to get their GEDs,” Ruiz said. “These are adult students. A lot of them are intimidated. But with Kelly’s encouragement and enthusiasm, she was able to rally them to set this goal.”

Courses in everything from intermediate crochet to long distance running are offered this fall through Waxahachie Lighthouse for Learning.

For more information about Waxahachie Lighthouse for Learning, call Melissa Cobb at (972) 923-4631, ext. 142.

E-mail Jennifer at Jennifer.Howell@waxahachiedailylight.com