When Ann Marie Auguste noticed that her daughter’s grades were beginning to slip, she knew it was time to go back to school herself.
A single mother working two jobs, Auguste said she saw how her busy schedule working in food service for Sodexo a West Orange middle school and pulling a night manager shift at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts was taking a toll on the well-being of her two children, Shernise, 14, and Obrian, 5.
“Doing the two jobs was very hard,” she said. “I always wanted to go back to school to better myself.”
But returning to the classroom wasn’t easy. The last time 35-year-old Auguste was in school was at age 16. She had also recently been diagnosed with Graves’ disease.
For some time, Auguste had not been feeling well—she was losing weight, her hair was thinning and she constantly felt tired. Despite her full time night job, Auguste said her employer did not provide health insurance coverage. Because she was uninsured, the various hospitals she visited only tested her for possible allergies. Finally in December of 2013, Auguste said the doctors at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair diagnosed her with Graves’ disease, an immune system disorder where the thyroid hormone is overproduced. Graves’ disease is more commonly found in women under 40, the Mayo Clinic says.
Auguste received health insurance in February by applying for coverage through the federally-mandated Affordable Care Act. She received treatment for her condition in April and quit her night job in order to focus on her education and caring for her family. Her mother, Joan, who lives with Auguste and her two kids in Orange, had lost her job a year ago.
In May, Auguste began GED classes offered by the New Community Adult Learning Center. Instructor Roslyn Skyles said she noticed that Auguste always arrived early to her class, which was held at the NCC Workforce Development Center at 201 Bergen St., with her homework complete and eager to help classmates.
After completing the GED Level 1 class, Auguste moved to Level 2 and is currently working on math concepts including fractions and decimals. Auguste has the highest math score in her class, her instructor said.
“I’m glad for her success,” Skyles said. “She made a great commitment and did a great job.”
Auguste, however, says she still struggles with English and writing essays. “I don’t like reading but I know I need to start back reading a lot,” she said, adding that she studies after her family has gone to bed. “If I don’t push myself, I won’t get anywhere.”
Born in the town of St. Joseph in Trinidad and Tobago, Auguste attended school there until age 16, upon which students customarily receive two years of paid vocational training. She chose the trade of hairdressing but later switched to various jobs such as working at the fast-food chain KFC and at a hotel in Trinidad. She immigrated to the U.S. six years ago and currently has a green card. She plans to apply for citizenship next year.
Auguste’s bigger goal is to forge a new career path in health care by learning medical billing and coding. With check-ups every two months and medication plus dietary restrictions to manage her illness, Auguste says that she is feeling “much better than before.”
Her teen daughter’s grades have also improved, which Auguste views as one metric of her family’s overall health. In part, Auguste says, it’s because she spends more time with her children. “I’m doing my best to try to help out at home,” she said.