Sister Mary Bonita Sniegowski never applied for “vanity plates,” but when her new license plates arrived after she began her work in adult education in New Orleans and they read “GED,” she had to smile.
“Everything I’ve done in life has prepared me for this role,” said Sister Bonita, who has been an elementary and high school teacher, principal, and executive director of Women Blessing Women.
She initially came to help teach at St. Leo the Great Elementary School in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but the road eventually led her to the St. Vincent DePaul Adult Learning Center. Today, she leads the program which provides one-on-one tutoring for individuals in reading, language, math, science, and social studies.
In New Orleans, where nearly 6,000 people do not have a high school diploma, the need for adult education is great.
“The average age of the individuals we work with is around 40,” explained Sister Bonita. “Many have not been in a classroom for more than 20 years.”
“This is a very impoverished area. Life has often pulled people away from completing their high school education.”
“On average, it takes students one to two years to complete the process,” she said. “We accept individuals wherever they are in their lives. It isn’t like high school where they were competing. There’s a comradery here.”
“The benefit of one-on-one instruction is that when you sit with someone, it often becomes more about life than just academics. They share their stories and needs. And we listen.”
Success is measured in different ways. For some, obtaining a GED means getting a better-paying job. For others, it’s a step towards community college. For one 80-year-old woman, learning to read meant she could read her Bible.
“It takes a lot of courage for people to come here and ask for help,” said Sister Bonita. “This is bigger than education. It’s about treating people with respect, love, and compassion.”