North Shore Nonprofit Helps People Find Their Path

Located in Lynn, Pathways, Inc. Adult Education and Training has helped thousands of students in hope of improving their lives. 

“We’ve come to realize that not everybody is on a path to college, but everybody needs a path,” said Mary Ellen Doyle, an English teacher at Pathways.

Stepping inside the center, the feeling of community and warmth is palpable. When the staff see newcomers looking lost, they kindly direct them to the right room. Students gather around the coffee station, laughing and making jokes during their break. Staff members poke their heads in each other’s offices to offer friendly greetings. 

The organization began just over 40 years ago in 1976 under the name Operation Bootstrap. Originally, the goal of the organization was to help court-involved youth find jobs, but the name changed in 2017 to Pathways, Inc. Adult Education and Training to align with its current mission: providing locals with pathways to educational and career goals.

Four hundred students studied at Pathways in the 2018-2019 school year attending English for Speakers of Other Languages classes, High School Equivalency Test classes, healthcare trainings, childcare trainings and more. 

HiSET certificates cover an entire wall inside Pathways’ center. In 2019, 45 students graduated, nearly four times the number of graduates in 2014. An additional nine students completed the ESOL program.

Pathways captured the No. 1 ranking as the most effective adult education program in Massachusetts according to the 2018 Measurable Skills Gain report conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The report shows the percentage difference between the goal percentage of students to acquire a skill and the actual percentage of students who acquired the skill. Pathways met 222 percent of its MSG target for Adult Basic Education services and 137 percent of its MSG target for ESOL services.

“Right now, everyone feels like we did it and now we need to do it again,” said Jessica Ortega, a Spanish HiSET teacher and former Pathways student. “Next year, almost all the same teachers will be in the same classes. I think this is a good signal because the teachers and the students are engaged in Pathways. Nobody left and nobody gave up.”

The majority of students are members of the local immigrant community, but a portion of them grew up on the North Shore. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34.7 percent of Lynn residents classified as foreign-born in 2018, which is more than double the national average. The program includes students from over 30 countries speaking 18 different languages. The reasons these students came to the United States vary greatly.

“In the beginning, I was working in Guatemala with a company,” said Mario Muñoz, a Guatemalan ESOL student and local pastor. “I represent the company in Austin, Texas. Then, I go back and I have a problem with my family—severe violence, and then I bring my family here for safety.”

Luydmyla Kiryushyna, a Ukrainian ESOL student, came to the U.S. to join her son who had lived in the United States for 25 years before her arrival.

“My country today—no good. In United States, I very happy,” Kiryushyna said. “This is United States—have very good medicine; my country—no good medicine. Very help my husband, maybe die in Ukraine. He is very sick; have cancer. This is big problem. He go to Dana Farber in Boston—very good help.”

Difficulty in accessing healthcare poses a common problem abroad.

“Over here, you have money, you don’t have money—they take care of you, but over there if you don’t have money, they let you die,” said Maria Gomez, a Guatemalan ESOL student who wants to be a cosmetologist. “Over here, first it’s your health and then you pay for it, but over there, they say go home and wait to die.”

 “Oh, wow,” whispered Daisy Rios, a Puerto Rican ESOL student who moved to the U.S. for her husband’s job, shocked at what her classmates have endured.

In these classes, students find ways to get along despite cultural differences and genuinely enjoy learning together. In Germaine Etienne’s summer ESOL Level 2 class, Etienne tried to find patterns in verb endings conjugated in the past tense in the native languages of her students. Patterns in Spanish were very apparent; whereas, the Russian verbs Kiryushyna wrote on the board lacked a pattern. Kiryushyna and the whole class laughed as they struggled together with the Russian spelling and pronunciation.

“Sometimes there’s just a little something magic about the group and I would have to say the class I taught last year is one of the groups,” Doyle said. “They were just very supportive of each other, and they were different. They were from different countries, different languages but they really tried to befriend each other, become a cohesive group. I think that’s that magic thing that you always hope will be there, and sometimes it’s been more than others.”

The students are often working parents, so coming to class can be a challenge due to juggling other aspects of their lives.

“When I study, I just study like you. I didn’t work; I just went to university,” Ortega said. “In this case, it’s totally different. They prepare their kids in the morning, they go to work, they come to my room. They come tired, but they do the things they are supposed to do.”

Pathways differs from similar organizations because it offers advisers, assistance with finding and applying for jobs, and help with learning how to use computers. 

“The teachers can do their job, but if one student does not show up, the adviser immediately call them and say, ‘What happened? Why you did not come to class?’” Ortega said. “In that way, the students are more engaged because they come again because he has somebody who calls them and they say they have somebody to take care of me.”

Ortega can relate to her students because she, too, is an immigrant who took ESOL classes with Pathways. She came to the United States in 2016 from Venezuela and started taking classes soon thereafter. Ortega then volunteered in the class she teaches now, Spanish HiSET. 

She originally studied biology education and has a master’s in wildlife management, but has found her calling.

“[It is] better to pay attention to the things that students need,” she said. “In my case, it is English and the GED. Especially in Lynn, we have a lot of people from Spanish-speaking countries.”

Pathways’ success can be partially attributed to its active community that celebrates and supports all of its members. The students sign cards for birthdays, new babies, graduations, as well as thank-you notes for teachers and volunteers. The staff places donated work attire on racks for students to scour. Students and teachers bring in food to share on special occasions.

 The biggest reason forPathways success, however, is the students.

“They’re so happy to be here,” Doyle said. “They’re so eager to learn and appreciative of what we can offer them, what we do for them.”

Visit to learn more about the organization.

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