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RCC program put students back on track

Twenty years after she dropped out of high school, Sherry Marshall went back to school to get her GED at Rogue Community College in Medford.

Earning her GED was the White City woman's only goal until she enrolled in Bright Futures, a free 11-week RCC program aimed at acclimating students to college and helping them set a new course in life.

"I just wanted to get my GED to show my children you can overcome adversity and continue living and growing," said Marshall, 47. "In the process, I found out I wanted to continue going to school and what kind of career I wanted."

The federally-funded program began in 1985 at the RCC campus in Grants Pass to assist students who are unaccustomed to or unprepared for college coursework and to help them find direction for a career path.

Since its inception, the program has served more than 3,000 students, including many who have struggled with drugs or alcohol. Others simply lost interest in school or dropped out when they became pregnant. Some are homemakers whose children have grown up and left home. All are looking for direction and the know-how to follow that direction, said Manny Pacheco, an advising assistant with the program.

"They're transitioning from their former life to the culture of being a college student," said Pacheco, who was a student in the program.

Marshall dropped out of South Medford High School in the 10th grade after becoming pregnant. She later married, had more children and became a housewife.

"In my family, girls were raised to get married and have babies," Marshall said. "Education was just something you did because you were a kid."

In 2001, Marshall divorced after 18 years of marriage and began working minimum wage jobs at fast food restaurants and grocery stores.

She said she turned to drugs to help numb the pain of her divorce and used them for more than four years. She eventually sought drug treatment and has been off drugs since last year.

Once she was free of the influence of drugs, she said, she became concerned that she had no retirement fund.

"My daughter encouraged me to get my GED, and that's when I became interested in school," she said.

While earning her GED at the RCC campus in Grants Pass, she found out about Bright Futures, which is called Moving On at the Grants Pass campus.

The program provides instruction in study habits and time management as well as exploration of careers. Students take tests to figure out their learning style and determine what careers might best suit their interests.

They also form study groups to reinforce the skills they've learned and to help each other with classes. The study groups often continue past the end of the program, said Central Point resident Matt Vorderstrasse, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade.

Vorderstrasse earned his GED when he was 18 and recently enrolled at RCC at age 21.

"The students who come through the program build pretty strong friendships," he said. "Students with support groups do better and last longer."

Instructors introduce students to the resources the college offers, such as the library, computer labs and tutoring center. Students also receive help in applying for financial aid and tips on what's available to help fund their education, including grants and scholarships.

At the end of the program, the students organize a graduation ceremony and create a mission statement for what they'd like to do with their lives.

About 25 students from Bright Futures and Moving On earn an associate's degree from RCC each year. About 85 percent of students in the program go on to take college or vocational classes at RCC, and earn an average GPA of 3.26.

Marshall completed the program last week and plans to become a full-time student at RCC in January. She hopes to eventually have a career in social services.

"Bright Futures built my self-esteem back up that I'm intelligent and that I have a lot to contribute to society, that I'm valuable," Marshall said. "I had kind of lost that fact that I am valuable."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

Matt Vorderstrasse of Central Point says the Bright Futures program at Rogue Community College in Medford helped him prepare for college. - Bob Pennell