Dropping out of high school is usually not a good idea for most people, but over a million students do so in the United States alone. Many find other ways to pick their life up afterwards. When Stefani McCoy was 17, she was being raised the daughter of a single mother while her father was battling a drug addiction. Eventually, she decided to leave school and it was impossible to convince her otherwise.
Fortunately, she quickly discovered night school when job availability became an issue. (Source: Facebook/Stefani McCoy)
According to NPR, “No one could talk me out of it,” explained McCoy. But it wasn’t long before she found herself living in her car.
A year later, she realized that her lack of a proper education would ruin her job prospects. She eventually got her diploma through night classes at the age of 19, and would later attend DeVry University for almost three years. She then found employment as an Enterprise Rent-a-Car manager.
Over a decade later, she’s now in the Peace Corps, and is working with students in Namibia who are in a similar position to what she faced many years ago.
According to McCoy’s colleague Toive Pessa, there are many reasons students in the area feel obliged to leave school. “There’s no support from their parents, their parents pass away, teenage pregnancy,” she told NPR. For quite some time, another issue that plagued students was high school fees. However, last year, the Namibian government declared that secondary education would now be free.
Family issues are a big reason why students in Namibia are forced to leave school early. (Source: Facebook/Stefani McCoy)
One issue that McCoy especially wanted to address was a lack of a proper career services office in the area. So she got to work creating one. “I said this is going to turn into something great,” explained McCoy. As part of her work, she offers mock interviews, job placement advice, and long-term planning strategies for students in need.
“A lot of them didn’t know how to use a computer, move a mouse or type,” McCoy added. According to her, there is often a cycle that poorer students find themselves unable to get out of: while schools offer “life classes” that help students prepare for their eventual job search, the less privileged students get improper advice and “teachers [only teach] what they’re comfortable with or what they know,” which also potentially limits their lessons.
To some degree, McCoy has issues trying to get students to view her own an empathetic level. “All of them were looking at me like, ‘You don’t understand my story,'” admitted McCoy. “To them, I’m not a traditional black person.” Being a multiracial American, who primarily speaks English, often causes her to face prejudice in the area. “In America, I’m as black as you are in Namibia,” McCoy tried to explain to the students she works with.
That said, cultural differences often need to be addressed to help her students. “When a parent talks to you, you must look down,” McCoy explained. While intended as a sign of respect, this behavior is normally considered inappropriate in working environments or at a job interview. In addition to having to convince the students to look her in the eye, she also concedes the mumbling and shyness can be an issue.
She also tried to convince the students to use what they went through, for better or worse, to their advantage. If students were obliged to leave school to help support their family, she advised being upfront about it, saying, “They won’t focus too much on the gap if you’re able to articulate the experience you have.”