When she takes the boys outside, she said, she tries to shield them from their surroundings.
“I live directly on Frankford Avenue. So when I go outside, I see people on the corner, people selling cigarettes, people selling narcotics,” she said. “I don’t want them to grow up thinking that’s how they got to live.”
Nearly a third of residents in the Frankford neighborhood, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer database, live in poverty. The unemployment rate — at 17.9 percent — is more than triple the national average, and 29.2 percent of residents over 25 have not graduated from high school.
“I want my kids to be able to see me going to school so that when they grow up, they’ll know ‘Well, Mommy did it. I need to go to school,’” Redding explained.
It’s an ambition that’s often heard by the literacy staff at MyPlace, where two-thirds of students are women and a majority of those women have small children at home. “A lot of women recognize their education needs when they start to have children,” said Inverso.
“You have to be the bigger, better example for your kids,” said Cifuentes. “If I don’t hold that sheet of paper, I can’t constantly preach to them to keep getting education.”
Research shows a mother’s education level has a significant impact on her children’s health and success.
A Foundation for Child Development report released in 2014 looked at disparities between children whose mothers did not finish high school and children whose mothers had a bachelor’s degree. More than half the former group lived in poverty, compared with just 4 percent of the latter group. In the former group, 40 percent of children did not graduate from high school by age 19, versus 2 percent in the latter group.
Of course, not all low-literate adult learners are young, unemployed moms. Often it’s an adult who is underemployed, perhaps working multiple jobs and seeking more career stability.
That’s the case for Annette White, 50, who graduated from high school in 1983 and lives in the Huntington Park neighborhood of North Philadelphia. She said she works three to four nights a week at a North Philadelphia nursing home, where she earns $11.40 an hour helping elderly patients get dressed and do range of motion exercises. She also works part-time on weekday afternoons at an after-school program, where she earns $12 an hour.
White said she became a certified nursing assistant in 2010 and is working toward becoming a licensed practical nurse to find a better-paid position at a hospital. “I just want to be able to live comfortable and be successful and happy,” she said, adding that she rents a room for $250 every two weeks. “My son in Seattle has his own house. He beat me.”
Unlike White, Mariano Arzola, 32, still has young children to worry about — five daughters from 1 to 10 years old. He said that after he lost his job a year ago, he couldn’t afford to pay the family’s $750 monthly rent and other bills.
“I lost everything — my house, basically my family. I even lost a part of myself,” he said. He currently lives in a men’s shelter in North Philly, he said, while the girls live with their mother. They separated after the family was evicted. He is not financially supporting them at the moment, he said.
“For me, that eats me up because I’m they dad. I brung them into this world with they mother, and she’s struggling,” he said. Originally from the Bronx in New York, he dropped out of high school. He has been living in Philly the past 10 years, working a string of low-paying jobs.
“I qualify for jobs that just hire people — McDonald’s, fast-food restaurants,” said Arzola, who wants to get his GED in order to enroll in a certified nursing assistant program.
Enrolling in basic skills courses, of course, does not guarantee an adult learner success. A Department of Education study published last year that looked at the long-term economic effects of adult learning on annual wages found that learners need to be enrolled in at least 100 hours of training in order to see an improvement in their wages. Also, it can take years after completing education before its benefits are seen. However, the ultimate results were significant and amounted to an increase of about $10,000 in annual wages in 2013 dollars.
And then there are the societal benefits.
“Investing in adult education pays a high return,” said Deana Gamble, MCOL’s communications director. “Because when adults are working, they’re paying taxes, contributing to their communities, active in their children’s education, [and] we see the crime rate go down.”
“The adults in the work environment will be there 20 years from now too,” Inverso said. “So the investment you’re making with these adults will be sustainable for the future.”
For Arzola, it’s about finding a fresh start and proving to his daughters he is a “hardworking, educated, fun-loving” father, he said.
“They know I work hard. They’ve seen it before,” he said. “But I also want them to realize that we’re living in an era where education is everything. If you don’t have it, you stay stuck in the same place.”