Friday, May 18, 2012 | 9:09 p.m. CDT; updated 10:48 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 9, 2012

MOBERLY — Stacy Boling, 19, is a student at Moberly Area Community College through the Missouri A+ program, which pays her tuition at a two-year state college because of her high school GPA, attendance and mentoring hours. She takes elementary education classes online from her hometown of Lentner, Mo., and works part time at the Hannibal Clinic , roughly 45 minutes away. When she finishes her degree, she hopes to work in elementary education in the school district she grew up in. She describes her version of the American Dream.

A person that gets a well-rounded education, from kindergarten to their senior year. And then they go on and earn their associate’s degree or their bachelor’s degree. Whatever it is they want to become. They have a job. They have money. They can care for their family. I think that’s what the American Dream should be — to be able to provide for a family.

I grew up always doing my homework, always being a good student, showing up to class. I think education is probably the basis for what people’s futures are going to be like. If they have a good education, their job is going to be really good. And sometimes it doesn’t always take four years of college to get a good job. There’s a lot of kids coming out of two-year colleges with good degrees and making more than a four-year college graduate.

I got that from my parents. They raised me to get a good education. My mom has always been very helpful, you know, making sure I receive a good education, helping me with my homework. If I didn’t understand anything, she’d always help. I think parent involvement is one of the biggest things that helped me strive.

And my teachers were a big impact. I learned a lot through the FFA (Future Farmers of America). I think that organization motivated me to further my education. I worked at a local vet office, and I was involved in FFA, and I was a cheerleader. I was really involved in FFA, I was an officer for the chapter. You earn degrees through FFA, and you have to earn so much money. So I worked the hours and earned points. And every 20 hours was a point toward your FFA degree. Well I received my state FFA degree last year, but I had to work up toward it. So I learned that you have to work hard, and that it always pays off.

My dad works at Sierra Flow, a copper factory in Shelbina, Mo. I don’t know exactly, but I’d say 20 years, maybe longer. I know it’s over 20. And my mom is a school secretary at South Shelby High School. She has three years to go 'til she retires, and she’ll have 30 in at the school.

I’ll probably work at the same place all my life and retire. I know a lot of people like change, but I don’t. If I get an education degree I’m probably going to stay in the same school district. In Shelbina there’s Clarence Elementary and Shelbina Elementary, and then there’s the middle school and high school, so if I ever change, I might change a school, but I wouldn’t change a district.

It’s a small area, and I really don’t like big cities, like Columbia. I think it’s because of where I was raised. I don’t have to wait on traffic. I’m used to the small, homey feel. And everybody in the community is so helpful. They’re caring, they’re loving, and everyone will help you out. It’s a different atmosphere than when you go to a bigger city.

I’m taking four classes, and they are all semester. And then I’m taking college orientation, which is only an eight week course. That’s pretty much all. I’m not as busy now since I’m not in high school. I’m still in the FFA chapter, but I’m not as involved because I’m in college.

I do think the American Dream maybe has changed. I mean, I’m probably more driven – go to school, be a hard worker, be dedicated – but I see not as many people are dedicated anymore, and they don’t work as hard. There are hard workers out there, you know, that will be at work on time, and they’ll be responsible. But I think maybe some people have stepped down, or lowered their standards. They maybe fall down but don’t get back up. You get a bad grade on a test, and you should say 'OK, I gotta do better. What do I have to do to do better?' Some people don’t step up to the plate and strive to do better. Maybe they don’t have the support at home as they grow up. Some parents are working several jobs, and they don’t get to spend as much time with their kids as they probably could.

I’ll probably be the same kind of parent as my parents were to me – they encouraged me to work hard, do my best. If I have a bad day, just get back up again and strive to be better. I’ll encourage my kids to do whatever they want to do, and I’ll allow them to make their own decisions about what they want to be involved in. I’ll be happy if they only want to go to college for two years, if they know what they want to do.

I’d say a family of my own is the most important. But I also think if you get an education it all falls together.

A lot of people probably don’t have the access to the education they want. But I’m actually going to school here for free through A+. I could have gone to a four-year college, but I chose to use my A+ because it’s a lot cheaper. I also have chosen to go online, to save gas money. So technically, I can do all my education at home, and all I had to pay for is my books. I’m going to use the money I save to further my education for the next two years at a university. It will cut the cost of college in half.

This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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