On the surface, Sara Davis’ goal seemed simple enough: She wanted to get her GED.
However, it wasn’t nearly that simple. In fact, the obstacles Sara faced during her quest for her GED weren’t mere roadblocks, they were the size of mountains.
First of all, Sara is blind. Making matters more difficult, English isn’t her first language.
It took five attempts and plenty of stressful moments, but Sara’s determination paid off when she earned her GED last month from Brazosport College’s Community Education department.
But this only scratches the surface of Sara’s story. Earning a GED not only demanded non-stop dedication and resilience on her part, it also required assistance from numerous departments at Brazosport College.
Sara fiercely wanted to earn her GED, but Brazosport College was also just as determined to assist her in achieving her goal.
COMING TO AMERICA
Sara’s first major obstacle came soon after her birth in Guatemala.
She wasn’t born blind.
“I wasn’t supposed to be blind, but whomever was taking care of my mother used a wrong solution in my eyes,” Sara said. “It burnt them.”
Because of this error, Sara is totally blind in one eye. She is only able to see a small amount of light through the other eye. Occasionally, she might even see a faint silhouette out of the one eye.
Sara accepted her fate and lived much of her childhood in Guatemala until she came to America around 15 years later for an eye surgery. Although the surgery failed to correct her eyesight, she remained in Brazoria County, lived with a foster family and enrolled in school.
Once in America, her top priority was learning the language.
“It’s a cruel reality when you come to a country, you’re blind and you don’t understand the language,” Sara said. “I set my mind to learn English because I wanted to know what was going on. It’s frustrating not knowing what’s going on around you. I was determined to learn the language.”
Although she wanted to stay and earn a high school diploma, Sara had to return to Guatemala during her junior year of high school. While back in her home country, she married and eventually returned to America in 2004.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
Once back in America, Sara settled into a comfortable life in Lake Jackson. She was married, had a child and enjoyed the amenities of the Gulf Coast. But the thought of missing out on a high school diploma remained in the back of her mind.
Then, in 2011, she contacted Brazosport College’s Community Education department to inquire about earning a GED.
“I’ve been here eight years now and Sara is the first Community Education GED student who was completely blind,” s aid BC Community Education GED/ESL Coordinator Kay Brooks. “We felt like we had the tools to help her.”
Once Sara committed, the BC community rallied around her.
Assistance was needed from the BC Testing Center, the counseling department and the Student Success Center, among other departments. Since she was the first blind GED student in recent memory, these departments pitched in to purchase the equipment needed for her to prepare for and take the GED test, while BC Community Education GED/ESL Instructors Lindsey Neyland and Jane Bawden provided classroom instruction and one-on-one tutoring, respectively.
With the help of many students, BC Director of Library Services Tami Wisofsky even translated the entire math portion of the GED test into Braille form.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED …
Sara passed four of the five sections on her first attempt at the GED. One section — mathematics — posed a problem, though.
“The biggest challenge were the sighted questions,” said BC Community Education GED Tester AID Barbara Fontenot. “For example, there’s a question on the test that asks about an odometer on a car, but Sara didn’t know what that was because she’s never driven. All of the visual questions were tough for her.”
But this wasn’t the only issue.
“The GED is administered in two parts,” Jane said. “The first is with a calculator, which wasn’t a problem because Sara has a talking calculator. The other part uses scratch paper. Using traditional scratch paper isn’t really an option for a blind student.”
As a result, Sara asked the state if she could use an abacus on her second attempt, but her request was denied.
She went on to attempt the math portion of the test a few more times and, although her score improved each time, she still couldn’t quite reach the required score.
Finally, she found a tool that could help: a Math Window Teaching Aid. The Math Window is a portable magnetic board that uses tiles, making it easier to understand the methods of building and solving math problems. Most importantly, however, the Math Window was approved by the state to be used during the GED testing.
Although the Math Window was hopefully the breakthrough Sara needed, she still had one final obstacle to overcome. Because the state was changing the GED test at the end of 2013, she only had one more opportunity to pass the math portion. If she failed in this final attempt she would have no choice but to start over and retake all five sections again.
Then, on her fifth and final attempt, Sara passed the math portion.
“We were doing cartwheels over here,” Jane said with a laugh. “We knew how much it meant for Sara and we were all so excited for her. She worked so very hard, and we worked hard to help her get there. Her getting her GED meant a lot for everyone.”
More than anyone, Sara was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
“By the time I passed, I was totally ‘mathed’ out,” Sara said. “I had been dreaming and eating math. It was math, math, math and a little more math. I don’t dislike math, but I was sure sick of it.
“It was great that this college welcomed me in like they did,” she added. “Brazosport College was so helpful, and the people there were so happy when I passed.”
ONLY THE START
Today, Sara is focusing on her family, as she just recently had her second child. With a GED in hand, she’s planning on joining the workforce in the not-too-distant future. However, she is still setting goals, and they still involve Brazosport College.
“I’m not stopping now,” she said. “I’m planning to take college courses now.”
In fact, her husband, David, is already preparing to see his wife studying nonstop through the night.
“She gets her mind on something and she doesn’t let it go,” David said of his wife. “She’s tougher than a bag of nails. She’s a very driven woman.”
For Sara, going to college isn’t just about her. Not only does she want to get a college degree, she also wants to prove to others what can be accomplished with hard work and determination.
“I don’t know if it’s because I want to prove it to myself or prove it to everyone else, but I want to show that I am capable of working in the sighted community,” she said.