AVON PARK - In high school, Ashley Rivera watched as his grades nose-dived and his confidence in school tanked. In the ninth grade, he dropped out of high school and never returned. At that time, Rivera did not understand the value of an education, nor did he listen to his parents' advice.
But life had more in store for Rivera, who oversees all online adult education programs at South Florida State College. Through a series of unexpected events and a lot of hard work, he transformed his life into a success story and says he's as shocked as anyone.
"The odds were against me," said Rivera, who at age 27 is in the final stages of earning his doctorate. "I had a specific teacher tell me I'll never amount to anything and I'll never make it to college. As a kid, that was pretty hard to hear, but now I think it motivated me and helped shaped who I am today."
Although earning his general educational development, or GED, was a life goal, it was not the end. After dropping out, he earned his bachelor of arts in business management from Southeastern University, his master's degree in business administration from Grand Canyon University and is now working on a doctorate in business administration from Grand Canyon University.
Before moving to Avon Park this year, Rivera held positions as the director of volunteer services at Essentia Health, regional volunteer coordinator and program consultant for the State of Florida Department of Health, and was a regional business liaison at Heartland Workforce.
In his current role at SFSC, he is an instructor for the GED, adult basic education and English for speakers of other languages. Rivera was an ESOL student himself when his family moved to the United States when he was 11.
Rivera recalls one professor that went above and beyond for him. "Mr. Paul Saltzmann, a professor of mathematics at Anderson University, would meet with me on Saturdays and Sundays so I could stay up to speed with the rest of the class," Rivera said. "I could depend on him for anything. He knew I struggled with the subject and went out of his way to exceed my expectations. Mr. Saltzmann was an outstanding professor who significantly impacted my learning and academic success."
As a professor, Rivera wants to makes himself accessible as much as possible for any students just like Saltzmann did for him. He believes that the adult education programs at SFSC will open many doors to success for his students. "They just have to be willing to learn," he said.
Education has not been the only obstacle in Rivera's life. He has always struggled with his weight and finally decided to make a change when his health became a serious issue. Since January, he has lost more than 120 pounds and is still exercising regularly along with his full work and college load.
"It would be difficult to think of anyone better suited to be an adult education instructor than Rivera," said Sylvia Turner, director of adult education. "He can relate to those who struggle with learning, since his own journey didn't come easily."
"I feel like I have been in the shoes of many of these students," Rivera said. "It's been a blessing to teach subjects I can relate to and been through myself. I'm not just teaching out of a book, I'm teaching from my own experiences. Many variables come into play when working toward your education, and a lot of these students are looking for a way to pick themselves back up from where they left off."
"An old cliché states: 'circumstances do not dictate ones outcome,'" Turner said. "This is certainly true when it comes to Rivera. His story begins as one with a suspected unhappy ending; however, his unpleasant circumstances were the driving forces to his road to success."
What drives him the most are the students to whom he's devoted his professional energies. He says he took the easy way out and does not advise anyone to follow in his footsteps by dropping out. He believes the school system is there for a purpose, and if anyone is thinking about dropping out of school, they should seek support. They may never have the same opportunity again.
"By dropping out, I missed out on some of the best moments of my life that I can never get back," he said. "I missed prom, homecoming, football games, senior trips, and most importantly, walking across the stage to receive my high school diploma."
Rivera credits his accomplishments to the instructors who took the extra time to teach him and push him forward. He believes he is lucky to be here today and is extremely proud of the man he has become. Motivation was presented to him when he was at the lowest point in his life.
"SFSC has been the perfect opportunity for me," Rivera said. "When you have great leadership, support, and encouragement anything is possible. Every chance I get to make a difference is worth the battle."
The adult education programs at SFSC provide students with a range of educational services to improve basic reading, math, and writing skills; complete a high school diploma; or improve English language communication. Students must be at least 16 years old to access these programs of study. Classes are offered year-round at a variety of sites in the community.
All of SFSC's adult education courses are tailored to meet the demands of each student through an individualized educational plan. Adult basic education, ESOL and general educational development courses are offered on campus and online. For more information, call 784-7441.