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“College is for smart people, I didn’t feel smart, college is not for me.” This was the internal dialog of Shantelle Thomas before she began her higher education journey with ACE. Although Shantelle grew up in a household where plans for the future weren’t discussed, she was about to tap into the educational legacy of her family, and recognize her place in it. Shantelle is the niece of Barbara Hankinson who is a force for education in her family (see June newsletter), and cousin to Thomas Jarrett who also graduated from the ACE program and then from West Chester University in May(see September newsletter)

Shantelle’s interest in going back to school began with a very practical spark: wanting to provide a better life for her family. She knew that a degree was necessary to apply for a higher level and higher paying position, and happened to have a friend enrolled in ACE pursuing an associate degree. Her friend spoke with excitement about her experience, telling Shantelle of the support she received at the partnership site and encouraging her to give it a try. “You can do this. Start here. They will gently guide you through the process where you’re not alone.” 

This encouragement and assurance that she would not have to figure everything out on her own was exactly what Shantelle needed to hear. She had to recognize that college was doable for her. It was then that earning a degree became a possibility in her mind. “If someone else did it, that inspires and encourages me. It helps me believe that I can too, and I push forward.” 

Shantelle contacted an ACE staff member and set up an appointment to meet and learn more about the program. Even in that first conversation, she found the guidance and support she was looking for to apply for both the degree program of her choice and financial aid. “I didn’t understand the process and felt very defeated. But I met great people. Mr. Harold stepped in as a father figure to me. If it wasn’t for him, I would have turned away.” After enrollment and the start of classes, Shantelle found the same level of care and support at the partnership site. “The staff identified themselves as the go-to people to ask for help with any challenge you had. Anything I needed to know, those people were there for me.” 

Having support doesn’t mean adding class and homework time to full time work and family life was easy. Shantelle acknowledges that it was difficult and challenging, but also realized she could handle it and thrived in the program. Graduating in 2019, Shantelle built on the foundation of confidence and success she gained through ACE and continued on to a bachelor’s degree program at Chestnut Hill College. Armed with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Criminal Justice as of Spring 2021, Shantelle now works exactly where she dreamed of since the beginning of her ACE journey: the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. In fact, she has already earned a promotion.