Columbia’s High School Equivalency Program Empowers Upper Manhattan Residents to Reach New Heights in Education

The program offers high school equivalency courses to help adults in Upper Manhattan advance their education.

Editor's note:

New York State selected the General Educational Development Test (GED Test) to replace the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC Test) as the primary pathway to a New York State High School Equivalency (HSE) Diploma, effective January 2022. 

Brandee Sanders
November 15, 2022

When Maribel Pacheco—a graduate of Columbia Community Impact’s High School Equivalency Program—embarked on a journey from Estado de México to the United States at the age of 16, the 2,500-mile trip signified a new life chapter. Behind her—in the hills of the Mexican state that she had called home her entire life—she was leaving harrowing memories that echoed through a household plagued by domestic violence and alcoholism. In front of her—in the U.S. where her older brother awaited her arrival—was the promise of opportunity and a chance to break the generational cycles of poverty and dysfunction.

“My childhood was hard,” Pacheco candidly shared with Neighbors. “My father always told me that I should go to the U.S. with my brother because things were super hard in Mexico. He said there were more opportunities over here.”

Upon arriving in the United States, Pacheco’s sense of hope and confidence dwindled as she navigated the obstacles that came with getting settled in a new country. She enrolled in high school, but later dropped out because learning English was difficult. “I started high school here, but I didn’t finish because it was hard for me to speak the language,” she shared. “It was stressful for me.”

Pacheco began working as a housekeeper as she tried to envision what the next step along her path would be. Becoming a mother reignited her determination to prioritize her education. She went back to school to take English language courses and later enrolled in Columbia University’s Community Impact High School Equivalency program.

The initiative is part of a collective of programs launched by Community Impact designed to support adults in Upper Manhattan as they cultivate a foundation for long-term success. Participants in the high school equivalency program take courses that cover the areas of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies to prepare for the High School Equivalency exam. They’re also provided with mentorship opportunities.

"Our student volunteers are committed to ensuring that we positively impact the surrounding community," shared Jeffrey Zeiler, who serves as an Education for Success Coordinator for Community Impact at Columbia University. "We are proud that our program can help participants achieve their educational goals."

Pacheco—a Harlem resident—credits the program for being an influential catalyst in changing the trajectory of her life. After finding a balance between taking care of her family and attending the courses, she thrived.

“They helped me a lot. I understand more,” she told Neighbors. “[My instructor] Matthew motivated me and told me that I can make it and there was a place in college for me. At the time I didn’t think I was good enough to do it, but now I like going to school.”

After earning her GED in 2020, she was accepted to Hostos Community College through the Dreamers Tuition Assistance program and she’s currently pursuing a degree in dental hygiene.

Pacheco says she wants her journey to exemplify the power of education and hopes her path inspires her children to reach new heights in academia. She’s even encouraged her sister to enroll in the High School Equivalency program.

“Education is important because it helps you be more independent” the aspiring dentist shared. “You can achieve what you want to become one day. It helps you teach your children. I tell my children your education is something that you carry with you for your entire life.”

To learn more about the High School Equivalency program, visit Columbia Community Impact’s website.

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