In a classroom nuzzled in a building that rests behind the First Presbyterian Church, the goals and dreams of many southern Oklahomans are becoming a reality.
Ardmore Family Literacy, previously known as the Ardmore Barbara Bush Literacy Corp, is working to provide opportunities to adults seeking to improve their life and further their education. The program is operating independent of the Barbara Bush Foundation for the first time this year and has seen annual growth and success, with six students graduating the program and earning their GED in December.
“We’re in our groove,” Leslie Kutz, executive director of Ardmore Family Literacy, said of the program. Kutz said another seven students are on track to graduate the program in May and she expects the growth of the program will continue. Ardmore Family Literacy works to promote family literacy through classes that work toward a GED. Kutz said the majority of those enrolled are mothers, though there are some men enrolled in the program also. The program serves a variety of individuals with different levels of educational experience.
“Most students we see dropped out sometime in high school,” Kutz said. “We see some students that are pre-high school.”
The program has a daycare for children under 3 years of age, which allows parents a flexible option for child care while they are taking classes. Classes are conducted from 8 a.m. to noon, which also provides some flexibility for those wanting to work toward their GED. Kutz said for a majority of the students enrolled a common denominator exists, which fuels their motivation.
“Their children,” Kutz said of many students’ drive. “It’s their children. They wake up one day and through some circumstances realize that how smart they thought they were when they were 16 and dropped out of school that that’s just not good enough.”
While obtaining a GED is the initial goal for those enrolled, Kutz said Ardmore Family Literacy’s goal doesn’t stop at graduation.
“GED isn’t your end all,” she said. “It’s probably going to help you get a better job to start with, but it’s not going to feed your family moving forward.”
Kutz said after obtaining their GED, she hopes that students will seek to continue their education, either through college, career tech or other avenues toward higher goals. Ardmore Family Literacy has a close relationship with several area colleges, the University Center of Southern Oklahoma and other higher education programs, which the graduates can attend to further their education. Currently, 70 percent of Ardmore Family Literacy graduates have enrolled in some post secondary education program.
Currently, Kutz said Ardmore sees about a 17 percent dropout rate, a problem that can be caused by a variety of different variables. Trends have indicated that failing to finish school can become a family issue, with children of parent who didn’t finish being more likely to dropout. Kutz said Ardmore Family Literacy aims at “breaking the cycle” and making education a large part of family’s life.  
“People don’t remember your setbacks it’s the comebacks,” she said. “It’s the comebacks that are important. They’re the pieces in your life that build you.”
When students graduate the program, typically in a school year’s time, Kutz said the occasion is a large celebration, complete with caps and gowns. While the GED itself is a sign of their accomplishment and a worthy goal, Kutz said many students see it as a step toward bigger goals.
“I mean it’s huge,” Kutz said. “They see a future ahead of them. They see an achievement behind them and a future ahead of them.”
Across the board, from the teachers and staff to the director and board members, Ardmore Family Literacy prides itself on caring about students and families. Kutz said the teachers and staff are motivated and driven just like the students, feeding off the students’ success and the impact their program is having on generations of families.
“This really ends up becoming a family,” Kutz said. “Here are people that are just trying to better themselves and we want to see them succeed.
“It’s great to see that light in their eyes. They’re here because they want to be here.”