Three sisters have returned to education as adult learners with SERC to pursue careers in nursing and midwifery. The sisters, all leading busy lives with 11 children between them, offer inspiration to anyone who wants to make a fresh start.
This week we are launching the sister’s individual stories. Today we hear Sara’s.
Sara, middle child of the Mehaffy clan - a subject for good banter amongst the family of four girls and one boy - and the second to return to education as an adult learner. Sara is just about to finish the first year of her nursing degree at Queen’s University Belfast.
Sara said, “Like Kim, I had decided that nursing was the plan me before I even enrolled on the fast track access course at SERC and part of that was seeing how the local district nurse helped my family when we lost our daddy, William, to cancer in 2015, just a week before Kim was to start nursing at Queen’s. It was the most awful time, but we were able to take comfort from the nurse who came out to the house when dad was very close to end of life. She made our daddy comfortable and told us when it was near time. Most of the family were there and it was comforting with the nurse there, guiding us, as we all held hands. The moment has never left me, nor how the nurse helped us. I knew this was what I wanted to do.
“My journey began on the one-year fast track access course at SERC in 2016-17, which was hard going. Before I started, I was at home with my children, so life was very busy. You don’t think you can fit any more into the day and then you take on a course and find that yes, you can do more.
“Some people did drop out, so the circle of friends I made disappeared and I quickly had to make new friends, but by the end of the year we were all one group, all supporting each other. I had thought about giving up, but older sister Kim inspired me to keep going.
“I loved the challenge of the course and all the new things I was learning and the opportunities that were open to me following the course. I cannot believe I have almost completed my first year at Queen’s. I am enjoying the study and the placements which are giving me a real insight into where I want to work in nursing.
She added, “There is a bit of history in our family of people going back to school. I suppose our mother Deborah started the ball rolling when she went back to study counselling and became a life coach and a fully qualified celebrant.
Finally, Sara said, “I wholeheartedly recommend anyone thinking about returning to education to consider the access course. The tutors are very supportive, so I’d say give it a go.”
Ellie Bradley has worked at SERC for 20 years and has been involved in Restart and Access during that time.
Ellie Bradley, Deputy Head of School, Applied Science Sport and Access to Education, at South Eastern Regional College said, “Our programmes really start from Restart Education which is a part-time programme aimed at giving people as second stab at their education, going right back to basics for maths and English. Students can also start at Access entry level but this will depend on what they have on entry.
“When people come to us they are scared about maths and English, school really didn’t work for them for one reason or another, perhaps they didn’t see school as important, or had their family early….we are not hung up on what happened in the past. Our focus is on this nice fresh start where everyone gets the opportunity to prove to themselves, their families and friends that they can succeed, whether that is getting qualifications to pursue a vocational course in further education or maybe starting a course a university. Everyone’s journey and aspirations are different.
“The one thing that unifies the students coming to Restart or the Access programmes are that they are all scared. Some are scared even to cross the door, scared that they won’t be able to do it or that that maybe that maths teacher from the past was right. The first day will always be quiet but a month in, it is like a different group of people. The excitement of ‘getting it’, especially maths, has taken over. They are looking forward to coming into class and eager to learn something they thought they would never understand.
"The learning process raises aspirations not only for the students but for their own children. They are able to say, ‘Yes, I know how to do that and I can show you’. They don’t have to Google the answer to help their children with schoolwork. It is a wonderful feeling.
“By Christmas, the Restart students are thinking of moving on to an Access course, such is the impact of the progress they have made in a few months through dedicated teaching and classes tailored for an older group of students. The Access course is a recognised entry to university for mature returners. It covers modules ranging from humanities through to sciences and social sciences – it depends on what the student wants to pursue as a career as to which path they will take.
“For us, it is important that the education is accessible. We structure the timetable around school drop-off and pick-ups and if students need a day off to deal with some crisis at home, we can work around that, so they don’t fall behind. We are not school, the classes are small, and they are engaging, everyone contributes. Every day we are proving to the students that learning can be fun. The classes bond very early on and we know that many students make life-long friend whilst making this fresh start.
She added, “About 50% of our students enter degree courses for careers in health such nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy or as health physiologists. A large proportion go on to develop careers in social work, criminology and teaching. A further cohort follow a science route and pursue careers in biochemistry, human biology or marine biology.
Finally, she said, “It is a privilege to teach in this sector. We watch people who are afraid to come into the building and see this amazing change as they develop their confidence, their learning, gain new skills and change their aspirations. Then they come back and give a talk to current students, helping us inspire others to give it a go and relaying our mantra that it’s never too late for education.”
The course is for adults who have been out of full-time education for at least 1 year. The focus of the course is on improving Literacy and Numeracy skills as well as giving an introduction to Science.