You’re never too old to start over.
That’s the message Janice Alonzo of Bonney Lake eagerly shares with others. “I just turned 65,” she said. “My goal is to live to be 125 – so I figure I’m already half-way there.”
Setting goals has become second-nature for Alonzo since graduating in 1961 from Immaculate Conception High in Seattle.
“When you came out of a girls’ Catholic school back then, it was either join a convent, go to college or get married. I wanted kids, although I’d been accepted to Gonzaga,” she said.
Alonzo married. For the next couple of decades she focused on raising two sons and managed to take a few classes at Green River Community College, starting at the age of 35.
Her sons grew up: one joined the Navy while the other married. It was August, 1992.
“In September I checked into Central Washington University,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to teach people how to read.”
Four years later, as the oldest student on campus, she graduated summa cum laude with a 3.85 grade-point average, earning a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education.
Alonzo’s first assignment took place in Mesa, Ariz., as a substitute teacher for a group of third-graders. “The class was in disarray,” she said. “There wasn’t any structure, the room had dark curtains and it was just chaos. It was the class from hell.”
But Alozno remained faithful to her goal to help children succeed.
“They were hit-and-miss on their grades,” she said. “I got them together and said, ‘we need you to pass third grade.” She stayed with her students until the end of May 1995. “We got every one of them into the fourth grade,” she said.
Armed with motivation, Alonzo transferred to Washington’s Highline School District and worked with at-risk students at the Ruth Dykeman Children’s Center in Burien. There, she encountered a student who daily reminded her of his dislike for school and life in general.
“He used the F-word all the time,” she said. “So I covered my ears and said, ‘oh my virgin ears!’” She told the student he needed to pay 25 cents for each verbal occurrence.
“I also laid out his options for studying,” she said. “And he kept saying, ‘I don’t wanna be here.’” But Alonzo told him that wasn’t among his choices.
“He came back the next day, plopped down four quarters and said, ‘this is in case I screw up,’” she said with a smile.
Alonzo built a relationship of trust and respect with the student. Her efforts astounded school administrators, who said they believed the student would never amount to anything, she said.
“I told them, ‘he won’t as long as you tell him that,’” she said.
“Most students I’ve worked with are so brilliant,” she said. “When they run into a teacher who puts them down or puts them in a box, they’re going to rebel.”
Alonzo continued her studies through Portland State University and Seattle Pacific University and was challenged by a professor on the first day of class at SPU. “She asked us to introduce ourselves as where we saw ourselves 10 years from now,” she said.
“I see myself owning a business called “Pathways to Literacy, a coast-to-coast learning center,” she said.
That was 11 years ago. Today, armed with endorsements in specialized reading and special education, she owns a business by the same name that provides tutoring, consulting and testing services and State Training and Registration System (STARS) for childcare providers. She also has contracts with local school districts.
“My dream came true,” she said. “Florida has contacted me and now it’s gone coast-to-coast.”
She has also been asked to provide curriculum to the African nation of Cameroon. “That makes it international. It’s all so funny because here’s a lovely little town called Bonney Lake, with a lady who lives in a duplex, who wasn’t afraid to dream when she was 18 years old.”
Alonzo doesn’t mind that her educational success got off to a late start. “It took me 13 years to get my degree,” she said. ““I absolutely do not regret raising my children first.”
She enthusiastically shares her passion of achieving personal goals with those who’ve recently entered the world of unemployment.
“If I can graduate from college at the age of 50 – it took me 13 years to get my degree – and form a business at 54 years of age, don’t tell me life is over if you lose your job,” she said. “It may be traumatic, but it’s not the end of the world.
“You’ve been given an opportunity to do something new and exciting. Embrace it; never underestimate where you can go next. Never think because the door is closing that it’s the end. There could be something exciting you haven’t seen yet.”