Rocio Lopez Cruz completed almost all of her schooling in the United States. But when her parents moved their family back to Mexico during her junior year of high school, her options to pursue her high school diploma were limited to a GED program geared toward adults.
“That was discouraging, you know,” Rocio says. “I was upset.”
She pursued a full-time job, but many job openings had hours that competed with the Saturday classes for the GED program. Eventually, she found a job in the fields that allowed her Saturdays off.
“That’s how I got my high-school certificate, working all day and all week and going to school Saturday,” Rocio says. “It was really complicated for me, but I did it, I got my diploma from Mexico.”
When she moved back to the United States last year, she discovered that her diploma from Mexico didn’t transfer.
“Then I got here and they were like ‘Ah, no, they don’t accept that,’” she said.
Rocio focused instead on her family, specifically looking for an early childhood education program for her youngest daughter. When she enrolled in Community Progress Council’s Head Start program in January 2023, she was connected with a Family Coach who supported the entire family to address their strengths, needs, and concerns.
“Penny asked about a goal in my life, what do you want to be, what do you want to accomplish,” Rocio says.
After some discussion, Penny shared about some of the job openings in Community Progress Council’s early childhood education programs.
“She could see that I spoke Spanish and English, and said ‘You could be a really good bilingual teacher,’” Rocio says. “But I had to get my diploma, my GED. That got me motivated.”
Penny became a familiar face when Rocio dropped her daughter off and picked her up from the Head Start program. But she also checked in often, offering encouragement and support toward Rocio’s goal.
“With Penny, it’s really easy,” Rocio says. “You talk to her and everything falls into place. She doesn’t judge you, she hears you out.”
Through Penny’s referral, Rocio connected with the Lincoln Intermediate Unit’s Adult Education program. Piece by piece, she worked through the subject matter tests to pursue her GED.
“I was nervous, I was scared, yes, but never discouraged,” Rocio says, acknowledging support from her husband and her family, as well.
In August, the good news came through: Rocio had passed all of her required tests, and would receive her diploma.
Now, as she prepares to give birth to her third child — her first boy — Rocio is also preparing for her future. Although she plans to spend time with her baby over the coming year, she knows that earning her GED has opened up other opportunities, including a potential role as an assistant teacher with the same Head Start program her daughter is enrolled in.
“I did this for me, for my family,” Rocio says. “I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot this year.”