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ABE program shifts its focus

It’s time to get back to the basics at Austin Public Schools’ Adult Basic Education program.

ABE has aligned itself more closely with Riverland Community College this year in several ways, making it easier for workers to go back to school to get the further training they need.

“We’ve kind of shifted part of our focus,” said Erin Haag, Adult Learning Outreach Coordinator.

Haag and other ABE teachers are capitalizing on increased programming for adults and a closer partnership with Riverland. Haag and ABE instructors have office space inside Riverland’s Student Center at Austin’s West building to help students identify which classes they may need to take to prepare for or improve on their Accuplacer test, a Riverland entrance requirement.

“This is just to … bridge the gap between ABE and Riverland courses,” Haag said. “That has really made a huge difference.”

There’s an increase in students this semester because of the increased partnership, with 45 students in GED Prep courses, 15 students in a Reading refresher course, and 35 students in a Math refresher course.

“It’s a relaxed atmosphere,” said Kaylene Jensen, ABE Instructor, Jensen, who is pursuing her master’s degree, teaches the Math refresher course and is present during Intro to Chemistry classes at Riverland to help students understand the material, even if they aren’t enrolled in ABE.

Classes can move at a pretty fast pace, like in the Math 2 course ABE offers. With about 15 students meeting for two hours each week, the class focuses on bridging some of the math pieces workers may have forgotten.

It’s that brisk pace that helps students like Alicia Arrizola in her Riverland classes.

“I just wanted to brush up on my skills,” Arrizola said.

Arrizola works with disabled residents, but decided to pursue a nursing degree at Riverland after looking at the job market and seeing the recent growth in the healthcare field. Arrizola took the Math 1 course last semester and is going through the Math 2 course along with the Intro to Chemistry course this semester. With the Math 2 course’s laid-back atmosphere, Arrizola and other students like Bobbi Jo Karsten aren’t afraid to ask questions.

“This is just a great program,” Karsten said.

Karsten also wants to earn a nursing degree and drives down from Owatonna every Friday to make the Math 2 course. She was worried heading into her Intro to Chemistry course that she wouldn’t remember the math needed for the course. The class appears to have calmed a few doubts for her, however.

“I just took the first test in chemistry and I just was worried,” she said. “But I got an A. That would not have been possible without this class. I feel like without this class I wouldn’t have done so well.”

Riverland and ABE also offer the same kind of help for Riverland’s Freshman English class.

The partnership is part of several recent Riverland initiatives to increase student retention.

Riverland will set up a reinforced safeguard starting this fall for students pursuing an associate’s degree in liberal arts or sciences who score 62 or lower on the reading comprehension portion of the Accuplacer test which Riverland uses to determine college entrance. Those students will have college preparatory classes in reading, composition and mathematics depending on their needs.

Riverland officials also restructured various student services into one department in 2011 to ease student wait times and create a focus on student retention. Instead of going to three or four advisers for admissions, registration, financial aid and counseling, students go to one.