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Three Outstanding Student Successes

Posted on 11/15/2011

Three former adult education students received California Adult Education Students Succeed awards at the ACSA Adult Education conference on November 3, 2011.

Joe Grinnell
Joe Grinnell

Joe Grinnell received his GED through Marysville Adult School in June 2011, but he traveled a long road to get there. His is a familiar story of gangs, questionable friends, a bad attitude, and tough schools ultimately leading to drug and alcohol abuse and expulsion from high school. Joe moved to North Lake Tahoe to continue high school but dropped out and got a job. He lied about his age to become a carpenter's helper and worked for four years in a job that "went nowhere". After continued abuse of methamphetamine and ultimately heroin, he found himself incarcerated.

Finally, Joe turned his life around. He became clean and sober and volunteered as a chaplain at the prison in Susanville, CA, worked in many outreach programs, and realized he had a burning desire to minister to others in correctional facilities. He began his path to becoming a pastor. The only hurdle was earning the required GED. Joe enrolled at Marysville Adult School where he found much support. Teacher Billie Shurtz helped him conquer the challenging math course, and Tim Kelly provided motivation, direction, and a fresh vision. Joe continued working full-time as a plasterer while attending school and on June 6, 2011, he walked across the stage as a graduate. He is now the executive director of the Twin Cities Rescue Mission in Marysville and continues managing his plastering business. Watch the video about Joe that was shown at the conference, and read a newspaper article about his success.

Ken Nguyen and Myhau Phan
Ken Nguyen and Myhau Phan

The journey of Ken Nguyen and his wife, Myhau Phan, began in Vietnam with Ken's refusal to join the Communist Army, forcing them to live a secretive life. In February 1985, they escaped Vietnam in a small, over-crowded boat, in the hope of finding a better life. It was a harrowing experience that put them in constant danger.

As Vietnamese refugees, Ken and Myhau arrived in San Jose in December 1985. They enrolled in the English as a Second Language Program at Santa Clara Adult School. At that time, Santa Clara Adult School was part of the Metropolitan Adult Education Program. Both will tell you that adult education played a critical role in their current success. They attended classes every morning, appreciating the free child care made available for their two-year-old daughter and encouragement from teacher Mrs. Gladys Stark. The school was "like a family for us," says Ken, and bonds with other immigrants facing similar challenges were quickly developed. Adult education, says Ken, "gave us comfort and security before we were able to take the next step."

That next step was college and employment. Ken is very thankful to be a U.S. citizen and asserts that the U.S. is the "number 1" country in the world. "You deserve everything you earn in the U.S., which is not the same as in other countries." They appreciate the investment the U.S. made in them as refugees: subsidized housing and welfare, free adult education, child care, and low-cost college. That investment has been repaid a hundred fold in the wages he has been able to pay his employees as the owner of Furniture USA in Sacramento. Their daughter Patty and son Nam have also thrived in this country. Patty is a high school ELA/ELD teacher in West Sacramento and Nam lives and works in New York City as the director of marketing for a software company. Watch the video shown at the ACSA conference about Ken and Myhau.