Admiring achievers is one of the great American traditions. Encouragement, acknowledgement and respect accompany students of Castro Valley and Hayward Adult Schools, many of whom are immigrants, all the way through their learning process.
"My students comprise a rainbow of colors and cultures who are yearning to learn," said Winnie Thompson, a Castro Valley resident and a Learning Center instructor at Hayward Adult School.
"Looking at the students, it's hard to know what they may be suffering from."
In her class, Winnie Thompson provides local and foreign-native students with Adult Basic Education, including reading, writing, math and "living skills," and teaches them to pass the GED and high school diploma classes.
"She's a really good teacher," said Don Forbes, 48, from Castro Valley about Winnie. "I became interested in math, and she teaches us money management in class. Before, I would get a paycheck, and go buy stuff that I don't need. Now, I'm more conscious about spending money."
According to Forbes, neither his parents, nor his three older brothers graduated from high school. Being the only high school graduate in the family, he still didn't feel that he had learned much.
"School was always frustrating," said Forbes. "I figured I must be slow because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep up. I always had a difficult time focusing, but nobody seemed to care."
Back then, in the 60s and 70s, his parents and teachers had no knowledge about his attention deficit disorder that was diagnosed much later. "At fifteen, I started drinking and becoming violent," said Forbes. "It seemed like the boys wanted to see who was the toughest."
After finishing high school, Forbes joined the Navy and was discharged because of his binge drinking. He worked in heavy construction for awhile, and later met his future wife and joined Alcoholics Anonymous.
"When I visited the Learning Center, I was afraid to tell the teacher that I was a high school graduate for fear she would not enroll me," said Forbes. "I was so relieved when Mrs. Thompson said, 'Don, you are extremely welcome.'"
"Now, I am learning everything high school graduates are supposed to know. For the first time in my life, I am enjoying learning and have hopes of getting the education I never received," Forbes said.
Forbes has a wife and a daughter, and is working for the John George county psychiatric hospital where he provides counseling to people with drug and alcohol problems.
"I can talk to them on a different level than their doctors can," said Forbes."When you've been there, you know from experience what they are going through."
His life story, My Name is Don, is included in a book, aptly titled My Name is America, edited by Winnie Thompson, based on her diverse students' accounts of their lives.