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Jana Vallejo: Former student returns as instructor, hopes to inspire

Many would say that everyone has a destiny or purpose; one thing that they are born to do. It would seem that becoming an instructor at Gadsden State

Community College was Jana Vallejo’s destiny. An adjunct Psychology instructor at Gadsden State since 2006, the Odenville native recently became a full-time instructor at GSCC. However, her journey to this point was not easy. In fact, it began when she was a sophomore in high school and made the tough decision to drop-out.

Vallejo’s decision to leave high school at sixteen was not an easy one, instead it was a decision induced by issues within her broken home and her battle with low self-esteem.  “I was overweight and we were so poor,” she recalls. “I thought I really couldn’t learn that much in high school. I just kind of fell through the cracks; I wasn’t happy anywhere and I just wanted to find happiness, so I quit school.”

Leaving high school, Vallejo turned to the workforce and soon married her husband, Emmanuel at eighteen-years-old.  Eventually, she began a family and any idea of returning to school was overshadowed by the desire to be a great wife and mother.

“I always knew I had more potential than I demonstrated,” she confessed. “But my children and husband needed me.”  When her children were in kindergarten, however, Vallejo felt the needed nudge to start thinking about her educational opportunities. Vallejo credits her children with being the push she needed. “I wasn’t really serious about going to school until I realized my children were going to emulate me. They were asking me so many questions and I didn’t have answers for them.”

Vallejo obtained her GED certificate and at 29-years-old she enrolled in Gadsden State.

“Although nobody in my family had ever gone to college and I hadn’t even graduated high school, I decided to just register for one class,” she said. A few days before she began her first class she saw a sign that validated everything she was thinking, “The sign had Gadsden State’s slogan and it said ‘Yes You Can’.”

From that one class, she began a ten-year educational journey that she refers to as an “adventure.”

After taking her one class in the spring of 1994, which just happened to be sociology, she knew she was headed in the right direction. Over the next few years, she would be able to add to her list of education an associate degree from Gadsden State and both bachelor’s and  master’s degrees in Psychology from Jacksonville State University.

Vallejo remembers that being in school for the second time around was so rewarding because her mind-set had changed.  “When I went back I had a new perspective. I had a goal that I was going to learn to help my children and I was going to learn to prove my self-worth,” she said.

A decade later, Vallejo has a new found confidence that is unmistakable. From teaching her students the facts about the sleep cycle to recounting her inspiring story, Vallejo uses every opportunity to remind others that anything is possible. As a teenager she felt as though she had no support system and her hope is that she can be that support system for her students. “I can see that I could have tried to make it different if I [would have] had the right perspective, but I had no one to tell me that,” she said. “So, I’m here to tell them that. You can be anything you want to be. You don’t have to do it immediately, today or tomorrow, but you can go one step at a time.”

While her story is undoubtedly awe-inspiring, Vallejo had not shared it with many. In fact, until recently her children were not aware that she had dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.  “I was kind of hiding it because I don’t want people to see me as that person, who I was, but as who I am today,” she confessed.

Vallejo no longer views herself as “oppressed”, the way she once did. Instead, she says, “I’m confident, I’m more of the person I’ve always wanted to be now.”

It seems almost kismet that Vallejo would return to Gadsden State as an instructor. She says this journey has taken her “full circle” and sees this as her dream job. She credits much of her success to Gadsden State and often encourages people to attend, including her children who both attended GSCC.

“Gadsden State has changed my life and it has made me happier. I feel like anybody could find their way and find their happy journey here because Gadsden State will work with everyone,” she beamed.

Jana Vallejo plans to head back to the classroom this summer to begin taking classes in Philosophy and has begun writing a book.

Jana Vallejo and her husband Emmanuel have been married for 29 years and have two children, Emmanuel (Brooke) and Christina Vallejo. They, also, have one grandson, Parker.

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