ATCHITOCHES – In working toward a college degree, Esther Stephens took baby steps, but those baby steps got her to her destination.
Stephens began working on a degree in 2002 and will fulfill her goal Friday, May 6 when she receives a Bachelor’s in family and consumer sciences from Northwestern State University.
Stephens’ journey has not been easy. She works as a paraprofessional at North Polk Elementary and has taken one class a semester for the past 14 years.
“I went step by step,” said Stephens. “My husband passed away in 1996 and my children were very young. I felt like I needed to take care of my family and I could do that by earning a degree and getting a good job.”
Overcoming the odds to improve her life is nothing new for Stephens who was born in Lebanon.
“Our village overlooked Beirut. Lebanon was going through a civil war in the early 80’s and it was hard to find a job,” she said. “My sister married a man from the United Arab Emirates and they decided to move to the United States and asked if I wanted to come as well.”
Soon afterward, she made her first attempt at college.
“I started college in 1982 but didn’t do well because my English wasn’t very good,” said Stephens.
Stephens later met her future husband who was in the U.S. Army. They were married in 1987 and moved frequently as he was transferred to installations around the world. When he became ill, the Stephens family settled in Leesville where her sister and brother-in-law lived.
Stephens took classes at Northwestern State’s Leesville/Fort Polk campus then finished her degree online.
“The faculty on the Leesville-Fort Polk campus were very helpful,” said Stephens. “Most of the students were younger, but there were some around my age. They all encouraged each other.”
Stephens completed all the face-to-face classes available in her degree program on the Leesville/Fort Polk campus then began taking classes online through NSU’s electronic classroom.
“I loved taking classes online. That was the only way I could complete my degree, said Stephens.
On Friday, she will join two of her daughters, Rosa and Aimee Stephens, as NSU alumnae. Rosa is a 2006 graduate in social work. Aimee is a 2014 graduate in psychology.
“A lot of time I wanted to quit, but Aimee wouldn’t let me,” said Esther Stephens. “She told me that I started this and I needed to finish.”
“I could not be happier for her,” said Aimee Stephens. “She has worked so hard. I am so proud of her. There were times when I kept her going. My sister and aunt encouraged her to start and my sister and I were able to take a class with her.”
Stephens said earning a degree has also made her a better paraprofessional.
“I work with children who are in special education and I have learned how to work with them more effectively,” she said.
Stephens is fluent in Arabic, English and French so language classes were easy for her. Like many students, especially those who have been out of school for a while, mathematics was a challenge.
“Math was the hardest,” said Esther Stephens. “I had trouble using a calculator. One time, I asked the instructor if I could solve problems without it. He did that time, but insisted I learn to use a calculator and I got though it.”
But Stephens is not through learning. She plans to take the summer off them take classes to prepare her for the PRAXIS examination.
“I’d like to be a kindergarten teacher,” she said.
Based on the determination she has shown, that will soon happen.