Guyanese native goes back to school at 57…After degree, immigrant hopes to teach others

Last Updated on Monday, 29 May 2017, 7:44 by Denis Chabrol

Reproduced from the Daily Gazette (Schenectady, New York) 

by Ned Campbell

Bridget Liebson takes a class at the BOCES Career Tech Center. The 57-year-old Ballston Spa resident is working on her GED. (PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ)

For Bridget Liebson, helping her 9-year-old granddaughter with her homework is kind of a big deal.

Having grown up in Guyana, the Malta woman never graduated from high school and wasn’t able to help her granddaughter, one of three, until recently.

For just over a year, Liebson, 57, has been taking classes toward earning her high school equivalency certificate through the Capital Region BOCES Adult Education program. She is on track to graduate next year.

“She’s (the granddaughter) talking about scientific notation, and I’m doing that at school,” Liebson said. “I never heard about scientific notation when I was younger. I didn’t know about the presidency or electoral votes. Because I am from Guyana, I never knew that.”

Tarin Bready, BOCES’ adult education vocational case manager, said Liebsen is an exemplary student who has made impressive progress in the program, especially considering English is her second language. Capital Region BOCES graduates about 85 adult learners per year between its English as a New Language and high school equivalency programs.

“She’s pretty amazing,” Bready said. “She came back to school after a long absence, and when she joined with us, she immediately let us know that she wants to get her diploma. She wants to show her family that she can and give her grandchildren something to strive for.”

Liebson said she never earned her high school diploma in Guyana because when girls turn 16 there, they are encouraged to get married or pursue college. The latter task was especially difficult for girls at the time but “now it’s better,” she said. She was also the second of seven children in her family, and her parents did not have the resources to keep her in school.

“I chose to get married.”

She was 17.

She then had two children and, after getting divorced, immigrated to the United States at 23 to be with her parents. They were already here but couldn’t sponsor her if she was married, she explained.

“Once I got divorced, they sponsored me.”

Liebson first lived in New York City in 1983 before moving to the Capital Region, where she became a licensed cosmetologist in 1986 and raised her children. She said she likes her job at Unisex Hair Design in Clifton Park, but after working in the same shop for more than three decades she decided to pursue her high school diploma to give herself some options.

“When I was young, I was always busy. I never had time. I came here with two young kids and I had a third (after coming to America),” she said. “I went to cosmetology school, and I always worked. Now that I don’t have any kids at home, I have time.”

She said a recent health scare gave her an extra push to complete the program.

“I hurt my shoulder, and I couldn’t lift it to work a few months ago,” she said. “No job is going to take you without a (high school equivalency diploma).”

Liebson is going to class at two venues — the BOCES campuses in Albany and Clifton Park — to get her diploma faster. She also uses a GED app in her spare time.

“It’s very peaceful,” she said of her studies. “I don’t feel like I’m old. I don’t feel like I’m 57. I go sit down there, and I do my homework.”

She said the program has also helped her have meaningful conversations with her husband, Alan Liebson, who is retired but worked as a medical proofreader.

“He’s very, very smart,” she said. “We have wall-to-wall books. Every time I need a book, he would suggest a book. I can sit down and talk to him about politics.”

Alan Liebson said his wife, in pursuing her diploma, has learned the difference between being smart and being educated.

“She’s realized now that she has returned for her education that she had the intelligence all along,” he said.

She’s considering teaching other hairstylists as a long-term goal.

“There’s a whole world that’s opening up for her because she’s getting her diploma,” Bready said. “It’s amazing to see people come in who want to do it for their families, but they’re doing it for themselves, as well.”

For more information on adult learning programs offered locally through Capital Region BOCES, click here.