Fun wasnt part of Regina Harveys childhood on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.
Neither was a high school graduation.
At 9 her mother died and there was work to be done. Taking care of her two younger brothers and too many duties to count. Adult things, adult responsibilities.
School became harder and harder, pushed further down the priority list.
Harvey made it to the 11th grade but that was it.
I dont think it had anything to do with school but it was more at home. I grew up without my mom, she says, comfortably sharing her memories of a difficult childhood.
I kind of had to step in and raise my two younger brothers.
Not much of a childhood.
So I was like a mom at 9. I had to do everything, cooking, cleaning, everything, she says, then pauses thinking of her childhood on the reservation. A time when kids should get to be kids, but Harvey was forced to be the adult.
I dont think I ever had any time for myself or for school, she says.
Now 44, Harveys a single mom of five with three still living at home. More than a year ago, she wondered if there was a better future for her and her kids.
I was struggling and wondering how I could better myself. Find a better job, better pay, she says.
Was school the answer? No, she was too old. Thats was the first thing that flooded her mind.
Then she came across an advertisement in the newspaper. As she flipped open to the ad about the Unlimited Learning Center and General Education Development (GED) testing, her mind suddenly opened to the possibilities.
I said I think Im going to try that. But I was scared and a little bit embarrassed, she says.
Back on June 20, surrounded by family and friends and 48 other graduates, all of them much younger than her, Harvey proudly accepted her GED certificate at the joyous graduation ceremony.
Twenty-seven years after dropping out of high school, Regina Harvey erased that regret.
ADDING THINGS UP
When Brandy Chandlers two kids asked for help with their math homework, she too felt the twinge of embarrassment.
She was quite clueless in the realm of mathematics. It disturbed her.
Then at work at the county assessors office, she again was confounded by math.
School was so long ago, I was struggling at work how to do certain math things, said Chandler, a 39-year-old Cortez mom.
She didnt think there was much she could do about it. But then she heard about the adult learning courses at the Unlimited Learning Center.
She didnt know what to expect but once she started, her intimidation and embarrassment vanished like a rounded-up decimal point.
It was great. (the instruction) is more one on one, its on your own and at your own pace, she says. Im very satisfied. I understand stuff at work and I understand my kids homework.
There was one problem that did arise with her newfound knowledge, Chandler says with a laugh.
When 13-year-old Keelyn and 11-year-old Kadan have math homework, Chandler has to be careful not to do the homework for them.
I was so excited when they needed help with their homework. I was like, I know that, come here!
Brimming with pride, Harvey watched and celebrated her oldest daughters high school graduation.
As Wynonna Harvey clutched her high school diploma, Regina Harvey wondered if school was in her future.
My daughter really pushed me, she was like You can do it, you have to do it, she says.
A life of being a mom and taking care of her kids was all Regina had known.
I thought, Im so old, I dont even remember high school. I didnt know anything else except raising my kids, she says.
She pauses to look back.
I didnt have time for myself or worry about myself, or even have dreams, she says with complete heartfelt bluntness.
The night she received her GED was one of the most memorable times in her life.
After a sleepless night, Harvey got the call from the school with the results of her GED testing.
Oh, it was awesome, she says. With stark suddenness, her eyes shift from the sadness brought on from reflecting on her difficult childhood, to a brilliant excitement as she remembered that special day.
MATH, A DIRTY WORD
Math has long been a dirty word when it comes to education. Many hate it, most struggle with it.
Math, even the word elicits a strong response from Harvey and Chandler.
Unlimited Learning Center Director Ann Miller says math is the main tormentor to all her GED students.
For Harvey and Chandler, it was as much sheer determination as anything that got them through it.
We just kept doing (the lessons) over and over and over and over, doing the same things, Harvey says laughing.
I would say I hate this math, but Ill do it again, Chandler says.
The one-on-one instruction was instrumental in their learning.
We had a lot of fun with it, the teachers were great, Chandler says.
It was the fun and casual atmosphere that helped ease the strain, Harvey said.
The teachers had a lot to do with making it fun, they were always encouraging. That made it a lot easier for me, she says.
Both women heap loads of praise onto their teachers at the Unlimited Learning Center, including Audrey Allmon who was a driving force behind their success.
I couldnt have done it without her, Chandler says. Shes more encouraging than anyone I know.
At the end of her classes, Chandler had gained three years of math equivalency.
She has a huge notebook with all her notes and lessons from her classes that she still uses.
When the math problems get too steep for Keelyn and Kadan, Chandler grabs her notebook and comes to the rescue.
I would tell them, wait, let me get my notebook, I can do this, she says grinning.
Harvey worked tirelessly to get through her lessons to prepare for her GED tests, spending hours and hours at the school.
People would ask me if I worked here, I was here so much, she says laughing.
For Chandler, her satisfaction adds up to a special feeling of accomplishment.
Now I dont have to worry about having the regret of not doing it. I did, no regrets, she says.
Allmon said many of the students forge special bonds.
They are students but they turn out to be best friends sometimes, she says.
A DIFFERENT CULTURE
As that child who had to grow up at 9, Harvey says life is different on and off the Navajo reservation.
My culture here is a lot different than my culture on the reservation, she says.
I tell (people on the reservation) that its not too late. When I tell them what I did, they say really? You went back to school, at your age? She says.
She left the Navajo Nation 16 years ago and seriously doubts that she would have her GED today if she still lived on the reservation.
Its just a different way of life, a different way of thinking, she says.
All five of her kids, most with tears in their eyes, watched as Mom got her GED. They swelled with pride watching what their mother had accomplished.
My kids were so proud, she says.
And so is she.
Its in a picture frame in my living room so everyone can see it, she says about her GED diploma.
Copies of that diploma are also hung in the homes and rooms of her children.
Everyone is proud.
For Regina Harvey, lifes hurdles and obstacles never seem to disappear completely.
She is a Certified Nurse Assistant but jobs are sparse. She hopes to continue her education and become a Registered Nurse and the Unlimited Learning Center offers that program.
As that single mom with a 15 and 9 year old still in school, she had to find whatever job she could.
Shes now working as a laborer at the Western Excelsior sawmill plant in Mancos, working the brutal 4 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. shift.
Shes already taken some college courses with her daughter at the Unlimited Learning Center.
I did pretty good, Harvey says with another proud smile. I got all As except for one class.
Her voice trails off slightly with disappointment, then reveals that she only got a B in the other class.
With her harsh work schedule and the physically demanding work at the sawmill, Harvey understands that school will be tough. But after getting her GED, motivation and confidence fuel her outlook.
After getting my GED, I feel that I can do anything, she says.
For Chandler, shes subtracted a lot of frustration and confusion from her everyday life. Those math problems at work are a lot easier and she now eagerly jumps in to help her kids with their math homework.
Its something she never thought possible before enrolling at the Unlimited Learning Center.
For Regina Harvey, she never had time for herself, she never had time to dream.
Shes still dreaming of a better life for her and her kids.
That dream is one step closer now that she has her GED.
The Unlimited Learning Center was where it all started for these two women.
Brandy Chandler accomplished her goals.
And Regina Harvey now has learned how to dream.