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2017 Champions Bonnie Potts & Brenda Cowell

Sisters motivated to go back to school

Brenda Cowell credits her sister, Bonnie Potts, for inspiring her to go back to school.

Brenda, who is older by one year, has followed in Bonnie's footsteps to get her Grade 12 diploma and then go to college.

Brenda Cowell Bonnie Potts - for website"My sister Bonnie motivated me to go back to school," Brenda says. "We both have some form of a learning disability, so I figured if she could do it, than so could I."

The sisters have been selected as 2017 Education Champions by the Education WORKS Alliance, after being nominated by Fanshawe College in Simcoe.

Brenda, 48, enrolled in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at Fanshawe's Simcoe/Norfolk Regional Campus. That wasn't long after Bonnie took the Personal Support Worker (PSW) program at the same school.

Brenda dealt with lots of anxiety to go back to school, but now feels proud of herself for adding to her education. The Waterford resident advises other people to follow their dreams, take school one day at a time and not to be too afraid to ask for help.

"The teachers are wonderful," says Brenda "They want you to succeed, so they will everything they can to help you. Also, don't let any type of disability stop you from conquering them to reach your dream."

Bonnie, a mother of two daughters aged 18 and 4, was encouraged by her Ontario Works case manager to try volunteering in the health-care field. After job shadowing a PSW, Bonnie discovered she liked the work and applied to the PSW program at Fanshawe.

Now, after graduating from Fanshawe last October, the 47-year-old Bonnie feels proud and more independent.

"I feel like it was a great thing to do, as I am not on assistance anymore," says Bonnie, who works as a PSW at Cedarwood Village in Simcoe. "I was tired of being on social assistance."

To get in the PSW program, Bonnie first needed to upgrade her English to a college level – no easy task for someone with the learning challenge of dyslexia.

Bonnie registered for Fanshawe's Literacy and Basic Skills program, taking the Academic and Career Entrance (ACE) Communications course. ACE teaches a series of skills and knowledge that provide an adult with the equivalent of a Grade 12 education so they can be accepted into college.

The Simcoe resident used flash cards to aid her learning, and she received help from Fanshawe's Counselling and Accessibility Services office, which provided adaptive technology and a laptop to assist her studies.

Bonnie worked hard to study, while also taking care of her daughters and living on a very tight budget. Family and friends provided her with emotional support along the way, and they also helped her get back and forth to school.

Both sisters came to realize that you don't have to boost your education alone, that there are many helpful people out there to help you every step of the way.

"Don't ever give up on yourself," says Bonnie. "There is someone out there who can help you learn something new."

Story by Mark Skeffington, Education WORKS Alliance

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