Faces of NDEC
It’s only recently that the idea of a school being a “good fit” for a student has gained traction. According to experts, a school may be considered a good fit when it suits a student’s academic skills, personality, and interests.
Elizabeth Sheehan, a 2015 NDEC graduate, knows well how important the right fit is. Like other students at the charter high school she used to attend, she is intelligent and hardworking. But she had been retained twice, “and I was facing retention a third time,” she recalls. “My self-confidence was pretty low.”
Elizabeth Sheehan is pictured at NDEC
She chose to complete high school at NDEC and enrolled in the High School Diploma Program in 2014. It proved to be the right fit. Elizabeth found the same academically challenging classes as at her charter school, plus the support she needed to succeed. Any worries she might have had about earning her high school diploma were soon allayed, thanks to NDEC’s long standing partnership with Cathedral High School in Boston’s South End.
“Being able to earn a diploma from Cathedral meant a lot to me,” she says. “The class schedule was a good fit, too, because I was able to maintain a job and attend school at the same time. Plus the school is convenient to my home and my job. “I felt way more confident at NDEC,” she continues. “The classes were serious yet fun because of the teachers. All the teachers, especially Adam [Berndt] and Manny [Reynoso], pushed me to do my best and encouraged me to go on to college.”
Elizabeth is now studying nursing at Bunker Hill Community College. She attends classes full-time and works part-time. She plans to become a NICU (neo-natal intensive care unit) nurse.
“NDEC was an amazing experience for me. It changed my view on school in general,” she says. “The most valuable lesson I learned was, education is about enjoying the classes you take and the people you surround yourself with. I’ll always be grateful for my time at NDEC.”
“In Boston there are many opportunities for everyone,” says NDEC graduate Berman Brignolle. “It is a great place to live.”
A native of Petit Goave, Haiti, Berman graduated from NDEC in 2017 and has been living in Boston for almost two years. His wife (who at the time was his fiancée) had come to America several years earlier, and the couple decided that they needed to be together.
Berman studied telecommunications at the Centre Pilote d’Haiti, and then moved on to the Institution Louis Pasteur, where he studied to be a laboratory technician.
Berman Brignolle is pictured at NDEC
He worked for Conseil National des Telecommunications (CONATEL), Haiti’s Ministry for Public Transport and Telecommunications.
Once enrolled, Berman moved through NDEC’s classes quickly. He progressed from Learning Circle to ESOL Level 4, then studied computer skills and Medical Terminology. He’s now enrolled in a Bridges to College program at JVS, where he studies English for Academic Success.
“Berman is an excellent example of a student who carved out a path to success for himself,” says Manny Reynoso, NDEC’s Program Director, who taught Berman. “He worked hard and took advantage of all the services NDEC offers. He’s poised for a really bright future.”
While he is currently employed as a chef, “I’d like to be either a biotechnologist or a health information technologist,” says Berman. “NDEC helped me so much. It’s true that, if you work hard and take your education seriously, you will be a success.”
Claudia Lima entered NDEC is July 2018 with one goal in mind – earn her high school equivalency credential. “I got tired of working at jobs that had no future,” she says. “I realized that I needed to make changes in my education no matter what, and I said, ‘The time is now.’”
She enrolled in Adult Education Services, College and Career Pathways Adult Secondary Education, and quickly found that there was more to NDEC than preparing for the equivalency tests. Claudia studied Office Skills and Technology, Customer Service, and Exploring Healthcare Careers.
So focused was Claudia on her goal that she enrolled in summer school, in addition to the classes she was already
Claudia Lima is pictured at NDEC.
taking. She found plenty of encouragement from her teachers, including Leslie Feeney Youth Education Services Program Manager, and Adam Berndt, Youth Education Services Case Manager. “Everybody is helpful and respectful,” says Claudia. “They encourage you to explore different subjects, and that helps you become truly educated. There is always information on Nathan’s (Hoffman, Career Coach) bulletin board about jobs. I took all the classes I could.”
In addition, Claudia is a pioneer member of the first NDEC Ambassador cohort in recognition of her hard work and academic excellence. She represents and promotes the Center to prospective students, community members, agencies, and corporations.
“It’s truly amazing how much Claudia brings to the table,” says Manny Reynoso, Director of Corporate and Community Partnerships, who mentors Claudia in the Ambassador program. “She brings passion, energy, and love to everything she does. She is an inspiration.”
Married and the mother of two, Claudia says she “has a lot of plans,” but she also has “a passion for helping people out.” Because she’s able to speak five languages, including her native Cape Verdean, she is thinking about a career as a medical translator.
“I just feel more engaged now,” says Giovanni “Gio” Alston of his experience in NDEC’s High School Diploma Program. “My old high school had these big classes, and it just wasn’t for me.”
Gio’s former principal recommended NDEC to the struggling student. Immediately NDEC’s smaller classrooms and class sizes helped him to focus on his studies. “Because the classes were smaller, the teachers are more involved and I am
more engaged,” he says. “It has made such a big difference to me.” Leslie Feeney, Youth Education Services Program Manager, says that Gio has matured as a student since coming to NDEC. “Giovanni has developed
Giovanni Alston is pictured at NDEC.
a strong academic voice. He has emerged as a leader in classroom discussions and often engages his peers to do the same. Those characteristics will foster Giovanni’s success.” Gio is now deciding between attending Bunker Hill Community College or Lasell College. “I want to become an ultrasound technician.”
Like many high school seniors, Dave Buchan has some key decisions to make. A student in the Youth Education Services High School Diploma Program, he has been accepted at four local colleges—Curry College, Framingham State University, Lasell College, and Wentworth Institute of Technology.
Not long ago, it was a different story. Although Dave had always been a good student, he found that his former college-prep high school wasn’t the best fit for him. “The learning environment and the class size were just not for me,” he says. “I was keeping up with the work, but it was a struggle.”
Dave enrolled in NDEC in January, and since then, he’s been soaring. “I’ve learned that it’s important to me to be in a small
Dave is pictured with Charles Shediac.
class,” he says. “That helps me a lot. I’m also receiving a lot of individual attention from the teachers, which makes a big difference.”
“Dave has become a remarkably conscientious student, and has emerged as a classroom leader,” says Adam Berndt, Youth Education Services Case Manager. “Dave’s academic maturity and dedication to learning will serve him well in college and beyond.”
A first-generation college student, Dave will enroll at Wentworth Institute of Technology in the fall to pursue a degree in architecture and interior design.
For NDEC student Mayra Diaz, it’s all about opportunity. “I moved to Boston [from Puerto Rico] because of my husband’s job and to give my two kids a better educational opportunity,” she explains. “Then when we got here, I realized I needed more education myself.”
Mayra enrolled at NDEC for the Fall 2017 semester. Classes were challenging, she admits, but the desire to succeed and create a better life for herself and her family has been a powerful motivator. “You’ve got to be focused on your goals and work hard for them,” she says. “Find the opportunities and put in the effort.”
“I’ve increased my knowledge in mathematics and learned about different cultures, among other things,” she continues. “I can
NDEC student Mayra Diaz, far right, with her family. Mayra says she moved to Boston to provide a better life for all of them.
also express my ideas better. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m much more comfortable now.”
Darren Stephens, NDEC’s Workforce and Partnership Manager, taught the Workforce Development component of Mayra’s ESOL 4 class, “Mayra was a keen student, always willing to attempt the exercises and tasks given to her,” Darren recalls. “She was really committed to improving her English and her family’s life.”
Because Mayra shared her dream with Darren of opening her own bakery, he later met with her to tell her about a professional cooking class. “I think it will help her move toward her dream of a bakery that sells cakes and pastries from her native Puerto Rico,” he says. “I suggested that she develop a portfolio of her work, because I know she has what it takes to make her dream come true.”
Manny Reynoso, Director of Corporate and Community Partnerships agrees. Mayra was in his ESOL Level 4 class, from which she graduated in 2018. “Mayra faces all challenges head-on,” Manny says. “No matter what, she has a caring heart, a hunger for learning, and she sets a fine example for her daughter and son. She never gives up.”
Currently, Mayra is a personal care assistant who works with senior citizens. “At NDEC, I learned to have empathy for people, to listen, and to respect them,” she says. “I use those qualities in my work every day.”
“NDEC is a great opportunity,” she concludes. “It’s more than a school – it’s a great and wonderful family where you’re encouraged to grow personally and professionally.”
Marc Orisma often uses the word “pathway” when describing his journey in life and education. His first pathway combined work and school. The second led him to Boston. The third pathway led him to NDEC.
A native of Cavaion, Haiti, Marc worked for Haiti Habitat, a large utility construction company. “I did a little of everything,” he recalls. “I picked up materials from the warehouse when they arrived. I oversaw inventory, supervised the welders, and worked with the French engineers who were the overall supervisors. It was good training for me because I had to be able to go from task to task quickly.
Marc is pictured at NDEC.
“This created a pathway of me supporting myself, working and paying the bills,” he adds. “Unfortunately, it also created a conflict between working and going to school. So I had to create a different pathway for myself.”
The opportunity came in 1982, when he came to the United States thanks his late aunt’s sponsorship. Eventually, Marc became a bus driver for the Boston Public Schools. He married and had two children, and bought a house in Dorchester. He’d achieved the American Dream, but he still felt something was lacking – his education. So he set out on yet another pathway. “My ambition was to go back to school and learn, especially the computer,” says Marc. “These days, not knowing the computer is not an option.”
He knew about the Center because his brother Larrieux had attended NDEC in the 2010’s. In addition, Marc’s school bus route often took him up and down Old Colony Avenue, and his curiosity was piqued. He enrolled in 2013.
“Right away, NDEC felt like the right place for me,” says Marc. “I learned a lot about basic geometry and algebra” – subjects he had always wanted to study. Moreover, “NDEC opened up a pathway that created ambition in me,” he shares. “It gave me the strength to continue with my education and create strength in my life. And the teachers – I can’t say enough good things about them. They are incredible.”
Teachers, in turn, praise Marc’s diligence and his eagerness to learn and share with others. Those qualities led him to be chosen as an NDEC Ambassador. “Marc brings a wealth of knowledge and life experience to class and to the Ambassadors,” says Manny Reynoso, Director of Corporate and Community Partnerships, who leads the cohort and taught Marc in the Customer Service course. “I’ve personally seen how he uses his skills to set and achieve his goals. I think his potential is limitless.”
Marc is continuing to work on earning his high school equivalency credential. “I want to learn more science and more social studies. I also want to improve my understanding of what I read and my writing. And of course, improve my computer skills.”
Olga Zuniga feels like she’s gone from rock to rock star, thanks to NDEC. “Before I came to NDEC, I felt like a rock on the ground, something that nobody sees,” she says. “Now I’m reaching my goals and seeing my growth.”
Olga came to the United States from Honduras. She spoke very little English, yet she was determined to build a life for herself here so she could provide for her children back home. Although her sister helped her get a job, Olga’s English was so limited, she couldn’t understand what people were asking her to do. “Life was really difficult. That’s what brought me to NDEC.”
Since coming to the Center in 2016, Olga has taken advantage of many classes in addition to English. She’s learned basic computer skills and has completed the Medical Terminology (now Healthcare Career Exploration) class, as well
Olga is pictured at NDEC.
as the Office Skills and Technology Training and Customer Service classes. Today she continues to study English in the College and Career Pathways Program, and is also an NDEC Ambassador.
“Olga is a natural-born leader,” says Manny Reynoso, Director of Corporate and Community Partnerships, who mentors the Ambassador cohort. “She’s the type of student teachers dream of having in class. She brings energy and focus and gets the rest of the class energized and focused as well.”
“NDEC has helped me prepare for success in many different ways,” concludes Olga. “I’m glad to be able to share my story with others. I feel like a bird that can finally fly on its own, and I want others to feel the same way, too.”
Nyoka McGann and her father share a special bond. Her love for him set him back on the path to health. His love for her set her back on the path to her dreams.
Six months before she was scheduled to graduate from high school, Nyoka’s father suffered a serious stroke. Immediately, she left school to care for him. “My father is one of my biggest motivators,” she says. “He understands me completely. No question, I was going to nurse him back to health.”
The teenager poured herself into caring for her father. She spent countless hours on the internet researching medicines, exercise programs, and nutrition. “I did everything,” she recalls. “If people said something worked, that’s what I did. I just wanted my dad to get better.”
Nyoka is pictured in class at NDEC.
Nyoka was so caught up in her caregiving that she put her own dreams on hold. “I didn’t realize how long it would take for Dad to get better,” she says. “Three years passed and there I was, still in the same place. I was losing focus on my dreams.” Then one day, she says, “My father showed a little movement. It was enough for him. He said to me, ‘My daughter, I would love to see you go live your life. I’m good.’”
With her father’s blessing, she moved to Boston in May 2018. Her first order of business was to finish high school. Nyoka tried online classes, but they didn’t work out for her. One day, while researching high school classes on her computer, she came across NDEC. She enrolled in NDEC’s High School Equivalency Program last fall.
Adam Berndt, Youth Education Services Case Manager, says that Nyoka quickly emerged as a classroom leader. “She went out of her way to help her classmates, often explaining math concepts with great patience,” Adam says. “She participated thoughtfully in every class discussion, and she set a wonderful example through her attitude and effort.”
In addition to being an academic standout, Nyoka is also an NDEC Ambassador and will soon begin working with NDEC’s newly formed Alumni Association.
Recently, Nyoka passed the HiSET exam.“I used to be ashamed of myself for not finishing school,” she admits. “But when I got to NDEC, the teachers made it very clear that I’m not on anyone’s timetable but mine. It’s never too late to start.”
Now that she has her high school equivalency credential, the future is wide open for Nyoka. Once interested in being a criminal lawyer, she now believes that dream has changed. “I have a very easy time talking to people, so perhaps I’ll be a counselor,” she says. “I love kids, so I might become a family counselor. I would love to be able to direct kids into the right path. One thing I learned at NDEC is, you will never reach anywhere in life if you are too afraid to try.”
Nathalie St. Fleur
It was a Google search that set Nathalie St. Fleur on the path to success. She wanted to go to college and begin working on her nursing degree, but she realized that she needed better English language skills if she was going to be successful. “Anatomy class isn’t the place to learn English,” she deadpans.
“My friends and I were looking for English classes in Boston, so we Googled it, and Notre Dame Education Center came right up,” Natalie continues. She enrolled in ESOL classes and completed Adult Basic Education Level 2 in the summer of 2018. Nathalie also took NDEC’s Medical Terminology class to help her in her nursing career. She successfully completed those courses and is now working on earning her high school equivalency credential.
Nathalie is pictured with Sr. Geraldine Burns at NDEC graduation in 2018.
A native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nathalie moved to Boston in 2006 to finish her education. “Education is the key to a better life,” she says simply. “I was sad to leave my family, but my father is here, and that helps.”
Something else that helps is the guidance she has received from NDEC staff. “The teachers have patience and explain things. They take the time to guide you and they encourage your questions,” says Nathalie.
Nathalie currently works as a nursing assistant at a skilled nursing facility in Needham. After she earns her nursing degree, she hopes to work with elderly patients and people who have Alzheimer’s disease. “The skills I learned at NDEC help me to communicate with my patients,” she says. “The teachers are always happy to see us. They show us a great deal of respect. I try to bring that to work with me every day.”
It started out like any other day, but as far as Nicole Anderson is concerned, the day she learned about Notre Dame Education Center changed her life. “I was in the guidance counselor’s office, as I usually was, and she told me about NDEC. I was nervous about trying it. I felt the stigma of having switched schools and I thought, ‘Great, all I’m going to get is a GED. What will they think when I want to go to college?’”
Maria Anderson, Nicole’s mother, was concerned, too. “Nicole was an excellent student,” she says, “and she wanted her high school diploma, not an equivalency. The counselor who referred us to NDEC said she had sent students there before and they had had great success, so we decided to look into it further.”
NDEC’s High School Diploma Program seemed tailor-made for Nicole. “I was able to walk to school, because it was so close to home,” Nicole recalls. “When I met with Adam [Berndt, counselor] and Manny [Reynoso, now Assistant Director of Corporate and Community Partnerships], they were both very sweet. Everyone was so nice and helpful.”
A later start time – classes in the Youth Education Services Program begin at 11:30 a.m. -- worked well for Nicole. Small class sizes and plenty of support from classmates and teachers helped her to blossom, so much so that she was chosen Student Speaker for the High School Diploma Program Class of 2016. In her graduation speech, Nicole said that attending NDEC helped her “discover a confidence I never dreamed of having.”
Nicole Anderson is pictured with students.
Maria agrees. “After just a few weeks it was obvious that she was looking forward to going to school,” she says. “The Center was very welcoming and she could talk to her teachers about anything.”
Another difference-maker for Nicole? The continued support from staff members. The door is always open to NDEC graduates, whether they need resume writing help, career counseling, or simply want to say hello. In Nicole’s case, emails from teachers helped with her transition to college.
A first-generation college student, Nicole enrolled in Lesley University after graduating from NDEC and is now in her junior year. “I decided on Lesley because I’ve always wanted to teach early childhood or early elementary students, and I knew Lesley was a great education school. I also wanted the college experience of living on campus, but I didn’t want to go too far away from home,” she explains.
Nicole has already had pre-practicums, or pre-student teaching experience, at a preschool in Arlington and at a kindergarten in Somerville. She hopes her junior-year practicum will be in a first- or second-grade classroom. Then she’ll student teach in her senior year. “My teaching certification will be in pre-kindergarten to Grade Two,” she says, “so I want to be sure to teach all the levels.”
“The greatest thing about NDEC,” Maria says, “is that it made my daughter realize that she wasn’t a failure. She could go to college and fulfill her dreams. It brought out the best in her.”
There was only one possible career path for NDEC graduate Brendan Wall: chef. “Ever since I was little, I’ve been in the kitchen cooking with my mom or my grandmother,” explains the 2014 graduate. “I would watch Emeril Lagasse on TV and think, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ And I knew exactly where I wanted to go to college – Johnson and Wales University [in Rhode Island]. I’d wanted to go to that school since I was eight years old.
It took a while, but the South Boston native made his dream come true, thanks in large part to the help he received from NDEC staff. In May 2016, he graduated from Johnson and Wales University with an associate’s degree in Culinary Arts.
“I went to a charter high school in Boston, and to give them credit, they really pushed us on college,” says Brendan. “The workload was heavy, which was definitely a good thing, since that does prepare you for college work. But I needed more guidance in the classroom.”
He found it in NDEC’s High School Diploma Program. “The staff worked with me individually, and that is what prepared me to work successfully on my own,” he says. “The extra support made a big difference.”
Brendan moved to Harbor Springs, Michigan, where he rose from intern to line cook at the local country club. He moved back to Boston in 2017. As part of NDEC’s career support services, staff members stayed in touch with the young chef and encouraged him to apply for restaurant jobs in the area. One of those jobs was at the popular Worden Hall restaurant on Broadway in South Boston.
Brendan Wall is pictured on the campus of Johnson & Wales University in front of a statue of the wildcat, JWU’s mascot.
With his high “kitchen IQ” and unflappable manner, Brendan quickly rose from line cook at Worden Hall to garde manger (pronounced “gard mahn-zhay”), the cook who is in charge of cold foods like salads and desserts. He now works as a catering cook for Gourmet Lauren in Stoneham.
Soft-spoken and personable, Brendan is nothing like the temperamental chefs seen on TV shows like “Hell’s Kitchen.” But he’s just as passionate about his craft. “When I was interning as a line cook at the main lodge kitchen in Michigan, people would see the [order] tickets in the window and they were freaking out,” he says. “I was like, ‘Bring it.’ I love the challenge of preparing great food in a short period of time.”