Twenty-nine-year-old JeVan McCurdy arrived at Literacy Kansas City the same way many of our students do: After he looked into completing his high school equivalency by taking the GED, the Smithville resident was encouraged to come to the Midtown-based nonprofit.
The polite, soft-spoken student admits he was “skeptical” at first. His educational experiences growing up were somewhat negative, and he left his sophomore year of high school. While he says he still wasn’t sure about Literacy KC after his first term with the then new Ticket to Read program, he became fully engaged during his second term, when he met his current instructor, Phil Denver, former head of our GEARS program for MCC-Penn Valley.
“He actually showed me how to break words down and to sound them out,” JeVan explains. “So it helps a lot. And he made me more confident in my writing.”
In fact, one of the highlights of JeVan’s time with Literacy KC was when he wrote his first complete paper.
“When I sat there and I realized I wrote a whole entire paper, I was like, ‘Oh, wow.'”
He goes on to describe what this small, yet monumental victory means to him: “Three paragraphs, properly spelled . . . It’s insanely cool. It made me feel a lot better, way more confident than I have been.”
He also journals nearly daily now, which he says has been “excellent.”
Phil encourages writing in class as well as at home, and one topic in particular is a reflection of the current steps JeVan is taking to achieve his professional ambitions.
“It’s called ‘Lifelong Dreams,’ and mine is to actually be an Iron Chef.” JeVan lights up when discussing this, and it’s obvious how much it means to him that he can write about it. But it’s just a first step, of course. While he’s currently the head chef at a sports bar and grill in Smithville, MO, he still wants to get his GED, start taking college courses and eventually accomplish his professional goals as a chef.
“I want to be at a higher pace, at a higher skill than I am now,” JeVan says.
It’s apparent that he has been inspired to do well in class, even with his long commute from north of the river.
“It helps because we have an awesome teacher,” JeVan says of Phil, adding, “I always want to be there with him.”
Phil shares in his student’s joy at his successes in class. He talks about JeVan’s great leadership among the other students, and how his creativity comes through in his culinary skills. On one of the last days of summer classes, JeVan brought in a salsa he’d made. The class loved it. Phil laughs and said a student who didn’t even like salsa was devouring it.
But JeVan doesn’t mention any of this, preferring to talk about what Phil has accomplished in the classroom. “I feel like I’m learning a lot with Phil as a teacher. So that keeps me motivated. And just seeing how much I’ve improved from the past two semesters to now is keeping me motivated.”
Again, JeVan knows these are the first steps. But with Literacy KC’s committed teaching staff, volunteer tutors and expanding resources, he’ll get there.