It took having a child for Randa Mansell to appreciate the real value of an education.
Twelve years later, Randa and her daughter have waged a friendly competition for school marks.
“I tell her she’s not the only A student in this house,” said Randa with a laugh. “We brag to each other and about each other.”
Even though excelling in her studies was easy for Randa, a Six Nations native, she left high school in Grade 10, having just turned 16.
She cites peer pressure as one of the impetuses. “I’d skip a week and then be able to catch up in a day or two. Finally, I just got bored. I went back a couple of times but I’d get three-quarters of the way through and leave again.
I was 19 when I had my daughter. My mom was a single mother of three on welfare. It was a struggle. I wanted my kid to have a better life than I had.”
That meant returning to school: first to a Six Nations program for single mothers, then to night classes to earn her Grade 11 credits, then to the Toronto School of Business from which she graduated in 2004.
“I worked for several companies but I found it hard to get jobs because I still didn’t have my Grade 12 diploma. I wasn’t moving up the ladder.”
Randa earned the four credits she needed for her Grade 12 diploma at the City Centre campus of the Grand Erie Learning Alternatives (GELA) program.
But with an aim to enrol in practical nursing at Mohawk College, Randa needed to upgrade in order to meet the program requirements. She earned more than 80% in all of those courses.
She has now completed the first semester of the two-year practical nursing program. After she graduates, she plans to work for a couple of years to pay off her OSAP loans before returning to school to become a registered nurse.
The 32-year-old, who also has a six-year-old son, isn’t stopping there.
She would eventually like to become a nurse practitioner and, ultimately, a physician.
Success hasn’t always come easy. Randa has struggled with transportation issues – she doesn’t drive – childcare, and finances.
“There have been many times when I thought it was too hard and sat down and cried. But nothing worth having comes easy. I’m not a stranger to struggle.”
Sam Ludow from Ontario Works, who nominated Randa as an Education WORKS Champion, said her determination has shown “that it’s possible to break free from Ontario Works and make a better future for her and her children.”
Randa has some advice for young people thinking of taking the same difficult path she did by leaving school too soon. “You’ll live to regret it. It’s just going to make your life harder.”
Photo by Brian Thompson, Brantford Expositor