For Chattahoochee Technical College student John Lee, of Austell, the first step to making a change in his life was facing his fears. Currently enrolled in the college’s Air Conditioning Technology program, Lee wanted to share his story with others in hopes that they, too, can turn their lives around.
“My younger brother dragged me to Chattahoochee Tech,” Lee said of his earliest memory visiting the college. “After enrolling, I had to take Learning Support math, and I’ll be honest with you – I was scared of reading.”
In 2015, under the wing of Learning Support reading instructor Judy Cannon, Lee was ready to make a change for the better.
“That lady motivated me — she always had a smile on her face and she was always so patient,” Lee said. “At first, I was afraid of going to reading classes, but from that first day and on, I was ready to do anything.”
Depending on one’s score on the COMPASS placement exam — mandatory for any applicant who is not exempt by virtue of college credit or ACT, SAT or prior placement scores — Learning Support classes may be required prior to enrolling in college credit-level classes. Cannon said that for many students, Learning Support classes are the first introduction to college life and are designed to help students strengthen their foundation of basic skills in English, reading and mathematics.
“These classes also help students build confidence,” Cannon said. “John Lee was an awesome Learning Support student. He took his reading class very seriously and attended every session, participated in class discussions and completed all assignments.”
Prior to enrolling at Chattahoochee Tech, Lee said he dropped out of school in the eighth grade after hanging around the wrong crowd. As he got older, Lee continued heading down the same path and ended up becoming incarcerated, later dealing with chronic pain from an injury and struggling with a prescription painkiller addiction. However, it was during incarceration that Lee took the first step toward a brighter future — he earned his GED around 2001.
As the years went on, Lee said the only education he gained following his GED was “street education,” and after being displaced from Mississippi to Georgia following Hurricane Katrina, Lee eventually met his wife and began working for his in-laws. Following a divorce and losing everything, including custody of his two children, Lee said he knew it was time to create a new life for himself.
“It was sad how the divorce happened, but you have to get on your feet, dust it off and keep moving forward,” Lee said. “When you hit rock bottom, there is no place left to go but up.”
With the help of state and federal financial aid programs, Lee has been able to fund his education with minimal cost out of pocket.
“Financial aid has been very good for gas money and getting a little something to eat,” Lee said.
Executive Director of Student Financial Services Jody Darby said financial aid programs have proven integral to the success of students at Chattahoochee Tech.
“At Chattahoochee Tech, a majority of our students are eligible for some form of financial aid, whether it be HOPE, Zell, Federal Pell Grant, or the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant. Through these programs and others, students who otherwise would be unable to attend college now have the opportunity to earn a certificate, diploma, or degree with little, if any, direct, out of pocket costs to them,” Darby said. “With the ongoing rise in the cost of living coupled with the time needed to complete a program of study, many of our students wouldn’t consider college as an option if it weren’t for these and other federal, state and private financial aid resources.”
On track to graduate during the 2018-2019 academic year, Lee said he owes thanks to Cannon and his family. In addition, Lee said he is thankful for the opportunity to attend CTC.
“My family was a big motivator and my mom was the backbone,” Lee said. “This is my second chance — God is good.”