Michelle Hylton proudly displays her Bachelor’s degree from WSU “The more education, the better chances you have of getting out of poverty and opening doors that wouldn’t be opened unless you had the education.”
No one understands this truth better than Michelle Hylton, a high school dropout-turned-college graduate. Now working as a program coordinator for Centralia College’s WorkFirst program, Hylton speaks passionately about the value of education to prospective WorkFirst students, many of whom are single parents trying to get off state assistance and get a better job.
“Education gives them confidence so they are not stuck in a cycle of poverty. They can know something better now,” Hylton said.
Speaking from her own personal experience, Hylton shares her courageous story with them—a story of hard work, determination and success.
“School was not important in my family. My mom was a waitress, and my dad was a logger,” she said. “Both had dropped out of school in junior high.”
Hylton found herself following a similar path. Dropping out in tenth grade, she got her own apartment and decided to become a waitress like her mother. After a few years as a single mom struggling to raise two young children, reality hit.
“I was kind of lost and didn’t really want to be a waitress all my life,” she said. “I watched my mom and wanted something more.”
In 2000, she began working towards her GED through Centralia College’s Families at Work program for single parents.
“When I finished my GED, it was the first time I had finished anything in my life. I was so proud,” she said.
With her GED in hand, Hylton continued to work in restaurants before gathering enough courage to enroll as a student at Centralia College. She had three young children at home and was on public assistance. Taking advantage of the WorkFirst program, she took college readiness classes and enrolled in program to become a medical information clerk. During this time, she also held a part-time work study job at the Teen Center.
“When I went back to school in 2004, I was scared to death,” Hylton confessed, “but I had a lot of support from WorkFirst and from my instructors.”
She went to school at night and worked during the day, graduating in 2006 with her certificate. However, she never ended up working as a medical information clerk. Instead, she decided to continue school and complete her associate degree. At the same time, she was hired full-time in the WorkFirst office as an office assistant.
Hylton, then a working single mother of four, earned her associate degree in 2008. In 2011, she began taking online classes through Washington State University. She graduated in December 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in social science with concentrations in women’s studies, psychology and sociology.
“Before coming to Centralia College, I had a roller coaster life,” she admits. “When I got here, I fit. It’s probably the first time in my life I felt I fit into a place, and I didn’t want to leave.”
Now working as the WorkFirst program coordinator, Hylton has the joy of inspiring others in similar circumstances to pursue education. Hylton takes great pride in seeing her students succeed.
“One of my favorite times of year,” she said, “is when I see those students graduating and see how their families are so proud of them. Just to watch someone come in who was scared to death and see them progress as they are going on the path to their degree makes me so proud of them!”
Centralia College’s WorkFirst Financial Aid program helps parents of needy families gain the skills they need to become employed or to advance in employment through wage and skill progression. Participants who are eligible can receive financial aid to cover tuition, fees and books for vocational courses, vocational certificate/degree programs, basic skill classes (ESL/high school completion), customized job skills training, Continuing Education courses that are job related, and GED testing. In addition, WorkFirst Work-Study also provides eligible participants with on and off-campus employment opportunities in their area of study. Centralia College currently has 111 WorkFirst participants.