For 23-year-old Moses Duran, Unlimited Learning Center in Cortez was more than just a school, it was a lifesaver.
He came to the GED center at the age of 15 with an eighth-grade education and a chip on his shoulder. On May 9, he’ll graduate from San Juan College with a 3.87 grade point average and a degree in veterinary technology. It’s an accomplishment that he says is owed to the educational and emotional foundation he built at Unlimited Learning.
When Duran was in eighth grade, he got in an altercation at his middle school with police and said from that day on “my entire life did a 360.” His family sought financial compensation for his hospital bills through legal action, but since there was no surveillance at the school, the case eventually fizzled out, he said. The incident left Duran with a severe distrust in authority. He became despondent about his education and found himself incredibly angry.
He eventually made his way to Cortez with his father, and after working odd jobs to help make ends meet, he soon grew frustrated with his “dead-end” career path.
He wanted to go back to school but couldn’t find the program or school that met his needs.
He found Unlimited Learning, and teacher Audrey Allmon. Allmon recalls Duran’s demeanor as incredibly angry but soon realized how determined he was to buckle down and get his GED.
Since the school can’t take students until they’re 17, they helped Duran study until he met the age requirement.
“And oh, he was just so angry,” Allmon said, “but I remember him coming in one day and putting his head on my shoulder and saying ‘Oh Audrey, I love this place. I come here, and you’re here and everything is the same.’ He told me this place saved his life.”
Ann Miller, executive director of Unlimited, says a big job for educators at the school is getting new students to trust staff and open up before they can trust themselves enough to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
“They start by trusting us, because they come here not trusting life, and if they can first trust themselves, and they can trust then our teachers,” said Miller. “It’s more than just lectures and grading papers when you become a teacher here. It’s a lot like joining the Peace Corps.”
Determined to not let his past damage his future, Duran caught up on his middle school education and completed four years of high school in 2½ years. He graduated in 2011 and now only looks to the future. He’s been completing veterinary fieldwork – studying grazing patterns of elk outside of Durango and testing bats for infectious disease in Salida — and is eyeing internships that can help him land his first job. He loves doing work that he enjoys in the field, and says he owes everything to the school that gave him the confidence to go after his dreams.
“I came here and Audrey and Ann – thank god they were there, because I wouldn’t be here right now – they worked with me tediously, I mean tediously because I was so stubborn and angry. ... When I graduated with my GED, I got a cake for myself that said ‘It’s about time,’” he said, laughing. “Now I’m graduating college, with a 3.87 GPA – first generation college graduate.”
His accomplishment also has the staff at Unlimited Learning beaming with pride. Many students who come through the doors don’t come back, despite the efforts of teachers who devote so much of their time and energy communicating the immense value of an education.
“I once went outside the apartment of a guy that stopped showing up. ...I ended up waiting outside of his apartment for four hours, went inside to the building manager, and he said he moved!” said Allmon, bursting into laughter.
Allmon, an 87-year-old veteran Montezuma County educator, has seen the transformation process many students overcome despite the stressful work. It’s the success stories that keep her and other Unlimited Learning teachers coming back to work.
“It’s a reward for us – we have so many bad experiences. When they’re walking with that cap and gown on, it’s like they have a whole new image of themselves. They think ‘I can succeed, I’m not stupid, I can do it,’” said Allmon.
Allmon will be driving down to Farmington on May 9 to watch Duran walk across the stage and accept his college degree,, She expects her elation to carry her back to Cortez.
“Oh I am so proud him. I think I’m just gonna fly home, I’ll have wings.”