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Making a Difference: Amanda Isner-Cheek

Success at last

When Amanda Isner-Cheek was just 14, her life began to change, and not for the better.

A native of Knoxville, she moved with her mom to a small Tennessee town where, she says, there wasn’t much to do but cruise around and bemoan the lack of fun.

Changing schools didn’t help either, especially since her new school lacked special programs to help her with her ADD and dyslexia.

“I just didn’t want to be there, so I just kind of gave up,” she recently recalled from the Lyon County Adult Learning Center, where she studied for and earned her GED® credential — with the help of KET’s Fast Forward. She passed all four parts of the test on the first try.

Back in Tennessee, when graduation time neared, Amanda didn’t have enough credits to graduate. So rather than return for another year, she dropped out and got a factory job. She soon met her future husband, and while she rose through the ranks at work, she decided to quit when her son turned 4 to spend time with him before he started school.

It turned out to be a bad decision, she said, coming at a bad time in her life.

“My mom passed away, and that was really hard for me, and I didn’t know how to deal with it — she was my best friend. It’s still hard to deal with it now,” Amanda said.

“So I turned to drugs and spiraled out of control, got divorced, got in trouble, got incarcerated, lost my son, everything just spiraled from there. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I made some really bad choices,” she added, choked with emotion at the memory.

Released from jail but still without custody of her son, Amanda says she got back into bad habits. Fortunately, her sister-in-law stepped in and offered to help.

“She came and got me and sobered me up,” she remembered. “I started helping her with her kids and once I was sober I was talking to my son and getting a clear mind, and made me realize that that wasn’t who I was —  that that was never who I was. I had turned into that person, but that’s not who I am.

“I needed to get back to the person that I was before,” she said.

She quickly started seeking work, but with her history and without a high-school diploma, finding a job was nearly impossible.

“I needed to step up and I thought, you know, with at least having a GED, that would be one step closer — maybe they’d look at that and be like, OK, she’s trying,” she said.

At the learning center, Amanda was terrified after being out of the classroom for so long.

“They pushed me telling me that I could do it, that I was smart, [and] what a good job I was doing. And once I passed my first test on the first try, I was like, ‘wow, I did that!’ And that gave me more confidence.”

Fast Forward, Amanda said, was crucial to her success.

“I studied with the Fast Forward program at home every night, just about. I don’t think I could have done it without it,” she said.

“For me, personally, someone explaining something to me, it doesn’t always get through. But if I can sit down and read it myself and just kind of have my own thought process on what I’m looking at and what I’m reading, that helps me a whole lot — a whole lot more.”

Now, Amanda has begun taking classes at Western Kentucky Community and Technical College. She wants to become a substance abuse counselor.

And like many GED graduates, Amanda is proud of her success for the example it provides for her son.

“Gabriel is very proud that I have finally graduated,” she said. “He’s always known that I didn’t graduate high school and he is so proud. He’ll say, ‘Oh Mommy, you did so good.’ That’s what I want him to have: a mom that he’s proud of and not ashamed of.”