Delia Watley is a Louisiana girl at heart. However, she always longed to move to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Over 20 years ago, her dream became a reality after a chance encounter in a mall. Watley met her soon-to-be boss, Sheila Fernly, who was in the process of developing a program in Irving, TX, in collaboration with the city, school district and North Lake College to help community members learn digital and technology skills. At the time, tech was exploding and for some people in the workforce, not having digital literacy skills could hinder job opportunities. The program was going to serve as a way to bridge the gap.
“We struck up a conversation in the mall – I had never met her before – and before the conversation was over, she offered me a job,” says Watley. “I was her first hire.”
Watley is still a part of this program, only it has evolved over time and now focuses on literacy language skills for adult learners. The Irving ISD Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) program, which is state-funded in partnership with Texas Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas, has a variety of offerings and currently serves 500 adult learners. Students can take classes, free of cost, to obtain their GED and/or citizenship, learn English and earn various workforce certifications. The city of Irving is one of the most diverse in the state of Texas, and the AEL program aims to eliminate barriers for community members. Watley is proud to serve as the Grant Program Strategist.
“Being a part of this program has been a blessing sent from God,” she says. “I’m a part of something that changes lives for so many people, their families and future generations. It can end poverty and provide hope for the hopeless. It’s also been a blessing getting the opportunity to work alongside my team members. We are truly a family of servants.”
Watley earned her bachelor’s degree from Grambling State University and continued her education at Lamar University, earning her master’s degree. She can recall being told throughout her youth that she’d grow up to be a teacher, and even though that wasn’t the path she pursued in college, Watley says she always had a passion for education and helping others. Through AEL, she’s able to do just that.
“I am service-oriented and I believe in helping others create better lives for themselves,” adds Watley. “I love what I do, so my job doesn’t feel like work. It feels like home, because Irving is an extension of my home. I live in Irving, I work in Irving – this is my community.”
In August, Watley became the first recipient of the Irving ISD HeartCore Award during a special presentation at Convocation. Superintendent Magda Hernandez created this award to recognize members of the Irving ISD community who have gone above and beyond and exemplify the heart of the District. For Watley, she says it was a special moment that she will never forget.
“I keep remembering how happy Superintendent Hernandez was when she called my name. She was just as excited to present me with the award,” adds Watley. “For me, it validates our respect for one another, our long work history and how much I admire her. I was honored.”
During the week of September 18 to 23, Texas Adult Education and Family Literacy Week is observed across the state. For Watley, it’s a special time to bring awareness about the amazing opportunities AEL provides for so many. She had this to say:
“Bringing awareness to the importance of AEL is needed throughout the country. More employable citizens make for a better economy, and AEL is a big part of that. When we look at the literacy rate, especially in Texas, and how it impacts billions of dollars each year, it’s important that we move these programs into areas in need to give others a chance for a better life.”