It's never to late to go back and get an education.
"As soon as I was able to I quit school," Jessica Whitehead said. "It was the biggest mistake of my life."
At 16-years-old Whitehead made a decision that, as the years have gone by, she now regrets. She is now 22-years-old with two young children, and she has returned to get the education that she gave up on years ago. Hoping her story can deter others from walking her path, she wants to be able to stop one student from quitting school.
"I didn't like school and I hung out with the wrong crowd," she said.
It was a party type of lifestyle that had serious consequences on her education.
"I got into fights and lots of trouble," she said. "But now I look back, and I really see how immature it was."
"It is so hard to start over at 22 with two kids," she added. "It's hard to get a job without an education. You won't do what you want to do or make the money you want to make without it."
Enrolled in the Family Literacy Program at the Linking Education to Adults, Adolescents and Preschoolers (LEAAP) Center, she is working hard to attain her General Educational Diploma (GED).
The Family Literacy Program provides assistance that parents with children six weeks to five years of age may need in order to earn their high school diploma, pass their GED test, or to improve their basic skills. Childcare and transportation is provided. Parents also participate in parenting classes and Parent and Child Together (PACT) time.
It is because of the childcare that Whitehead is able to take part in the program. She knows that her children are being looked after while she is in class and she is able to focus on her studies.
"My children are my biggest inspiration," she said. "I want to better their lives."
"Jessica is determined to improve her education level, and she will be successful." LEAAP Center Coordinator Mary Yelton said. "Obviously, she is very dedicated to doing what's best for her children."
There are new challenges every time Whitehead begins working on a new subject and it makes her regret quitting school even more.
"I study hard for every test," she said. "I have to continue taking the test until I pass."
Whitehead is one of many students at the LEAAP Center currently working to accomplish her goals, and there are many more like her in the community.
"It is imperative that parents who do not have their GED or high school diploma or need to review basic skills have that opportunity to improve their education," Yelton said. "So they not only have the ability to enroll in postsecondary education and training to find a better job, but they are also able to support and help their children to be successful in school."
The balancing act of school and motherhood can sometimes cause stress, but Whitehead continues to move forward, knowing that it will be worth it in the future.
"As hard as it is I still push myself," she said. "If I don't do this, then when my children grow up they will ask me why they should finish school because I didn't."
It's her children and all the people that continue to support her, which continue to motivate her.
"It's Mary who pushes me and tells me I can do it. Andrea Herbet at Cumberland Academy that has been there through it all not only as my counselor but as a friend," Whitehead said. "It's everyone who volunteers in the nursery at the LEAAP Center to take care of my children. I'm so grateful to everyone."
Without the Family Literacy Program, many people wouldn't have the opportunity to get their GED. But it isn't only volunteers and teachers at LEAAP it's the community support that the program relies on.
"It is important that the citizens of Clay County support the families and this very intensive program, which addresses the challenges, many parents face when they try to improve their level of education," Yelton said. "We are grateful for the organizations and individuals who have provided assistance through donations, referrals, support, and volunteer service."
While Whitehead continues studying with the goal of one day becoming a nurse, she hopes her story will help other teenagers to stop and think before they make the same choices she did.
"If I can reach out to just one student to stop them from dropping out," she said. "Then it was worth it."
For more information on volunteering or making a donation, call Yelton at 446-2536.