BROOKSVILLE — Carissa Bacon will receive her high school diploma on Tuesday, and the 28-year-old can thank her children for that achievement.
Bacon will graduate from the Adult Education Center after passing the General Educational Development test, which she heard about last year when her children brought home some papers about Hernando County's H.E.A.R.T. Literacy's GED program.
"I was so happy," Bacon said.
She enrolled in the program and immediately began receiving help in the academic areas where she struggled.
"They started me where I still needed to learn," she said, adding that she began studying math in late 2010, and by April, she was able to take the test and pass.
Her long road to this proud moment was filled with obstacles and setbacks, some of which she admits she brought on herself.
Back in her elementary school years in Connecticut, her teachers would send home school work that she didn't get done during the week. Bacon said she didn't focus well at school and day-dreamed a lot.
As she finished elementary school, her mother, Cindy Zappa, decided she would home school her daughter.
"She was a little worried about me going to middle school and getting into bad associations," Bacon said.
While all this was taking place, Bacon said, her mother was having some health problems and her father, John Zappa, was laid off from his job. The family moved the family to Brooksville in March 1996, when Bacon was 13 and just finishing eighth grade.
For high school, her family ordered curricula through American Home School and things were fine for a while. But times got hard financially. John Zappa worked a full-time job, while Cindy Zappa, worked two jobs.
"I'd say I made it about a year and a half into the high school program," Bacon said. Then, she added, "I kind of let other things take priority."
She was babysitting her younger siblings, but she then got her driver's license. At 16, she said, she "let school go."
She worked in a dollar store, babysat and did some house cleaning for a couple of years. Two months short of her 18th birthday, she left home, did some partying and moved in with a boyfriend.
After about a year and a half, she began to realize she was on a bad path if she wanted a good future. At 191/2, she moved back with her parents, met Ken Bacon, and the two were married in January 2002.
She was working as a waitress when she married and her husband worked his swimming pool business. She decided she wanted to do more, but would need her GED to do so.
Bacon and her brother Tyler Zappa, 27, went to Pasco-Hernando Community College to take the pretest. "I was told I needed to work on the math," she said.
She signed up for an online program, but in July 2002, she found out she was pregnant. The couple was still living with her parents and Bacon waited tables until the pregnancy made that too difficult. She found a job a secretary and worked until February 2003.
They moved to their own place and had their son, Cody Bacon, on March 31. Carissa Bacon was focused on motherhood and school again took a back seat.
Five months after Cody's birth, she was pregnant again. Kady was born in June 8, 2004. "That kept me pretty busy," Bacon said.
While pregnant with Kady, the family moved to a bigger house. Three months after Kady's birth, Bacon was expecting again. She had Cory on June 15, 2005.
"At that point," she said. "I told myself I would wait until they were all in school and I would go back myself."
In January 2007, she returned to work as a waitress until, she said, "It got to be too much." She quit and really started thinking about a career.
Her sister, Daryl Kelly, 26, had just become a certified nursing assistant and told Bacon she didn't need a GED for that.
John Zappa paid for the CNA class, and Bacon was hired right away by "Granny Nannies." She is still with them, but the work has motivated her to want to become a nurse.
That's when her children brought the information home about Hernando County's H.E.A.R.T. Literacy's GED program.
Bacon will walk Tuesday night at her graduation with her family in the audience. She plans to enroll at PHCC to become a licensed practical nurse as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nurse. She wants to begin her work with Hospice.
"There were a few bumps along the way," she said. "But now I know I can do it."