Education offers a way up and a way out

The News TribuneFebruary 19, 2013 

A profile last week by News Tribune columnist Larry LaRue captured an all too familiar horror story – and one of remarkable redemption.

Camryn Ramirez dropped out of school in the sixth grade, had her first of four children at age 14, spent 20 years drugged out and even sold narcotics with her first child on the streets of Tacoma.

But then some things started happening, and they very likely saved her life.

David Steger, founder of a Christian outreach group, got her going to Puyallup’s Foursquare Church, and then, as he put it, “She really went after it.” Pregnant with her fourth child and living in a Tacoma trailer park, she decided to turn her life around.

And she did, with help from Bates Technical College. She earned her GED and now is halfway through the college’s administrative medical assistant program.

Her fourth child, Xaviour, had been taken from her by Child Protective Services, but she’s been able to get him back thanks to the progress she’s made in school and her personal life by getting off drugs.

At 35 and clean for 18 months, she has a real shot at the kind of life she probably couldn’t have imagined not that long ago. Instead of being a drain on society, she will contribute to it. Although her story is more dramatic than most, it still illustrates the power education can exert in helping to turn lives around.

Bates President Ron Langrell put it well when he described what vocational schools can mean to people like Ramirez. “We have students getting their starts sitting in class next to those getting their last chance.”

Schools like Bates and the state’s community colleges can provide opportunities that help students like Ramirez create new lives for themselves. But in recent years, funding cuts have hurt their ability to educate as many students as they’d like to. Ideally, these schools would be expanding to train more workers, not cutting back.

When people like Ramirez decide they want to change their lives, places like Bates need to be ready to help them. State lawmakers looking for ways to “grow jobs” won’t be successful if there aren’t educated workers ready to step into them.

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