Lives Changed By High School Equivalency Program

Aida & Marina
Aida Saucedo and Marina Lopez pause for a photo while on campus at NNMC. Courtesy photo

“I Get By With A Little HEP From My Friends”: Lives Changed By High School Equivalency Program

Marina Lopez has a hectic schedule. After working a graveyard shift as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at Aspen Ridge Lodge, an assisted living facility in Los Alamos, she barely gets a few hours rest before rushing off to a full day of classes.

What the 26-year-old lacks in sleep, she makes up for in drive and enthusiasm. Marina’s life didn’t always look like this. She had been out of school for ten years. After realizing that being a high school student was just not for her, she decided to drop out and enter the real world.

However, for a teenager in northern New Mexico with no high school diploma, options were few and far between. Marina soon found herself hauling hay, irrigating fields and doing other seasonal farm work to make ends meet. All the while, the Española native knew the direction she wanted to take in life, but didn’t quite know how to get there.

She had secured a job and trained as a certified nursing assistant, but to achieve her dream of becoming a fully certified labor and delivery nurse, Marina would have to get her High School Equivalency Credential (HSE) – a daunting task for someone who’s been out of school for so long.

Searching for the best way to advance herself, Marina found the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) at Northern New Mexico College, which helps migratory and seasonal farmworkers, or their immediate family, who are 16 or older and not currently enrolled in school to obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma.

“It’s awesome,” Marina said of the program. “The teachers are awesome because they’re patient with you and teach you a lot.”

“From being out of school for ten years I forgot a lot of stuff, especially math. I relearned within a few weeks,” Marina added.

HEP is a highly competitive 8-week intensive designed specifically for people who have had their education interrupted by theirs or their family’s seasonal farm work. For people like Marina, who exude passion and drive, but were unable to complete school for various reasons, the program offers a once in a lifetime opportunity. “It’s hard but it’s worth it,” said Marina, after having completed the HEP program and obtained her HSE. “I’m happy for myself.” Marina is currently taking classes with NNMC’s Jump Start Program, which provides first year experience classes for all college freshmen.

“I want to go all the way,” she says while barely containing her excitement at the world of possibilities now ahead of her. “I wish that everybody who dropped out of school could go through HEP. It’s a big help. A really big help.”

Finding support:

For some students who have had their education interrupted, going back to school to obtain a HSE is not straightforward, especially if their life is full of hardship and adversity.

Aida Saucedo is one such student who had life throw everything and the kitchen sink at her during her repeated attempts to continue her education.

After dropping out of school at 16 and having two children while working at a local fast food restaurant, Aida decided it was time to secure a better future for herself and her children. She re-enrolled in school, but with two children under the age of three at the time, and a limited income, Aida found it increasingly difficult to be a student while being a working mother.

After another pause to reconfigure her life, Aida discovered through family members that she qualified for the HEP program at Northern due to farm work carried out by her brother, and promptly enrolled.

However, personal adversity caught up with her again, this time in the form of an untenable family situation and a herniated disc that required surgery and took months to heal. The physical and emotional pressure was just too much for Aida to bear. Once again, she was forced to halt her progress, take a step back and attempt to regain control of her life which was being derailed.

After a few months, Aida, now more driven than ever, returned to the HEP program and persevered to the finish line. She obtained her HSE in December and is only weeks away from completing her first college semester.

“When I was in the [HEP] program, I was already filling out papers. I knew what they were, but in my mind, it hadn’t settled in. Those papers were to come into college,” said Aida, who is still coming to terms with her achievements.

“All of a sudden I’m registering for college when I didn’t know where I’m going to get the money. I didn’t know that I was already in college. And that was all because of Shari,” she added, referring to the Director of Northern’s HEP program, Shari Jobe. “Everybody has been so supportive – awesome teachers, but Shari is one of those people that sticks with you until you get to the right track and stay on the right track.”

“I’m here. I did it,” said the enthusiastic Aida who plans to complete a degree in nursing. When asked what drove her despite her hardships, Aida said it was her desire to become a role model for her children.

Both Aida and Marina serve as role models to many of us as they demonstrate that with the right guidance and assistance, any obstacle can be overcome.

For more information about the High School Equivalency Program (HEP) at Northern New Mexico College, contact Robin Duran, Program Specialist at 505 747 2195, or Shari Jobe, Program Director at 505 747 5441,