Single mother returns to school to seek better life

by: Photo by Susan Matheny - COCC student Amber Paplia also works maintaining the computer lab at the Madras center.

   When Amber Paplia decided to enroll at Central Oregon Community College, she began improving her life and landed a job as well.
   "I'd just had my daughter, Nevaeh, and was looking for a job, which wasn't working. So, I figured I'd go to school to get a better job, because I didn't want to be flipping burgers," she said.
   It had been a while since she was in school. Paplia had attended Madras High School, but dropped out. Then in 2007, she got a GED through the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council program.
   "I had a lot of people try to set me on the track (to go to college) but I was so stubborn, I waved them off. My sister is actually a teacher and just got her master's," she said.
   Paplia said she was a meth addict and got clean after she dropped out of high school and went through counseling at BestCare Treatment Services.
   After that, she worked as a courtesy clerk at Safeway, mopping floors and bagging groceries. She also did house cleaning for a little while. Then she got pregnant and quit work to have the baby, who is now age 2.
   When she tried to return to the workforce, she couldn't find a job. "I started thinking about my daughter and wanted to make a better life for her," she said.
   With that goal in mind, Paplia enrolled in COCC's online classes in 2011, signing up for anthropology, geography and psychology.
   Because of her experience at BestCare, she wanted to be a counselor. "I knew that's what I wanted to do, because I knew how it felt," she said, noting she wanted to help others.
   In that field, she said, "There's lots of psychology study, which is awesome. It's so interesting and I like it."
   She will soon be entering her second year at COCC, taking psychology 219 and writing in Madras, and human sciences in Bend or Redmond.
   When a friend mentioned that the new Madras COCC center was hiring people, Paplia applied and got called for an interview, during which she was tested on her computer knowledge.
   Her computer expertise helped her land the job to maintain COCC's computer lab, and help students with applications on the computer.
   Paplia said she learned computer basics in classes at Jefferson County Middle School and the rest on her own.
   "The teacher who taught me in middle school, Royce Schlenker, is actually an instructor here now for computer information systems 120," she said of the Madras COCC center.
   Paplia said she dropped out of high school because she hated the classroom dynamics, but said returning to school has been "real awesome."
   "At COCC, the teachers are so friendly. And the students are completely different because everybody wants to be here. They're all really friendly and outgoing, which makes it nicer," she said.
   Careerwise, Paplia is aiming toward a two-year associate degree in addiction studies, and possibly a four-year psychology degree. She would like to work as a counselor in another town.
   Pursuing an education, she said, "Has opened so many doors. Things I was not able to do before, I can do now. It sounds cheesy, but the classes help you in your everyday life."
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