As an elementary school student, Charles Benfield was a kid who fell through the cracks. He attended three different schools, each of which placed him in Special Learning Disability (SLD) classes due to his short-term attention span and his need for additional tutoring.
Yet, the SLD classes were never able to provide him with the help he needed.
“On paper, I guess that’s what the special class was going to be for – giving me a little more time and attention,” said Charles, now 41. “But, the litmus test to be put into that class was the amount of time it took you to do your work. It seemed that made it just a dumping ground for troubled kids.”
In other words, SLD teachers spent most of their time dealing with the most disruptive kids, all at the expense of the quieter students. This left Charles and others with even less opportunity to learn, and many of them became the targets of classroom bullies.
He tried homeschooling for a while, but that didn’t work out, either. His mom worked during the day and, therefore, couldn’t oversee his school lessons. So, he headed back to the classroom in middle school, where his experience was a familiar one.
“I was saddled with the same thing, and I just lost my motivation for school,” Charles said. “I remember getting a bad sinus infection and missing a few days, and I just never went back.”
This decision would haunt him for the next two-plus decades. As needs and responsibilities grew throughout his life – things like managing depression and helping support his brother, who has Asperger syndrome – Charles’ need for a high school diploma and long-term career training also continued to grow.
After losing a job that he thought might be his long-term answer, Charles eventually found Florida Career College (FCC). He enrolled in the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) program at FCC’s Margate campus, from which he expects to graduate in January of 2022.
Also, in November of this year, Charles earned his high school diploma available through a program offered by FCC.
“That’s something that was a big obstacle for me,” he said. “I wanted to do several different things throughout the years, but that high school diploma was a big obstacle. The fact [FCC] provided the ability to get that … I wanted to be able to do something to have a future, and I feel like that’s what I got at FCC.”
BUILDING A FUTURE THROUGH EDUCATION & TRAINING
Charles said he spent most of his life working various jobs in retail – jobs that never paid well and which rarely offered any significant benefits. Then a few years ago, he found a position working at a storage facility which he felt might support him over the long term.
“To me, that was going to be the thing,” he said. “I started feeling a little more secure.”
But, the job didn’t last. When he was let go, he felt he was back to square one. For a couple of years, Charles dabbled in food deliveries which was fine for a while, but he knew that wasn’t sustainable.
He needed something more stable. That’s when he came across Florida Career College through an online search.
“I ended up physically going into campus over a year ago now mainly as a recon mission,” Charles said. “I was just going in to seek information or what not – to see what the options were. I would have been happy with just getting my GED, but I learned that here, I would also get training and be able to have a career.”
Charles chose to enroll in the HVAC program because, as he said “I like working with my hands, figuring things out, and the puzzle process, if you will, of figuring things out in a system. I like that sort of investigative work in just figuring out a problem.”
Once he started classes, Charles said he sensed a completely different approach to education than what he experienced in the past.
“I would definitely say that the instructor I have now, Mr. Naylor, if I had him as a teacher back in school, I probably would have actually gone to high school and finished it,” he said. “He’s really good with the hands-on stuff, he’s very understanding, he sees when you’re having trouble, and he’ll take time to go over things with you, which I really appreciate.”
“When you walk through my classroom doors, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, your financial status or your educational background, I am going to teach every student that is willing to learn and get their hands dirty,” Alex Naylor said. “Charles is very willing and persistent in learning as much as he can. He almost never missed class and was more consistent with his work online than most students in the class. Teaching dedicated students like Charles makes my job fun and fulfilling.”
DEVELOPING CONFIDENCE AT FLORIDA CAREER COLLEGE
Charles is down to his final module and Florida Career College, and soon he will be graduated and looking for his first entry-level position within the HVAC field. While he’s currently in talks about a position at a company that works mostly in the industrial sector, Charles sees himself eventually devoting his career to residential HVAC.
“It seems that, out of all the options, the residential stuff is more approachable and a lot more uniform,” he said. “But who knows? I might end up doing the other stuff, as well. But, residential seems to be what I’m looking forward to doing.”
He said that taking courses at FCC has instilled in him a greater level of confidence both in his education and his career prospects, especially when looking back at all he’s accomplished in a relatively short time.
“I’m my own worst critic when it comes to my progression, but when I take a step back and look at it, yes, I’m definitely proud,” Charles said. “It seems like a mountain trying to get all this stuff under my belt and in my mind to be able to work. You have nine months to do it, and it’s a little-by-little process.”
But, having nearly completed this part of his journey, Charles is quick to point out that taking the first step – not necessarily the education and training itself – is the hardest part in making such a life change.
“I encourage people who want an education like this to just do it,” he said. “It’s something that, once you throw yourself into it, it may look like it’s an uphill battle, but it gets easier once you’re in it. If it’s something you can feel like you can get into, there’s no harm in trying.”