That ‘other’ education is making an impact

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, August 30, 2017

There are those who think of “adult learning” as that “other” kind of education being done only at night, or on a weekend.

But there were Austin Adult Learning educators to explain their mission to the Austin School Board Monday — and their work is hardly mundane.

“It is one of the best-kept secrets in Austin,” said Amy Baskin, who oversees the Community Learning Center where most classes are held.

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They have the numbers to prove it. Austin Adult Learning courses are humming. Last year, 432 students were served.

There are a wide range of programs, designed to address the needs of Austin’s diverse population.

Last year, there were 462 students, natives of 28 different countries and speaking 22 different languages, said Adult Learning Coordinator Stacy Edland.

Edland attended the meeting with fellow educators, navigator Stacy Mason, and Outreach Coordinator and navigator, Kristy Rooney.

Edland outlined all programs provided to adult students, including its English Language Center, where four levels for English language instruction are offered in the morning, afternoon and evening at the CLC. In 2016-17, there were over 360 students enrolled in almost 40,000 hours of instruction.

The program also offers GED and college prep, developmental math and advanced English. Advanced English classes are offered both in the morning and afternoon at Riverland Community College. Rooney said having classes at RCC makes sense, since many will go on to take classes there.

“It makes them more comfortable” to be familiar with the people and classes, she said.

The wealth of offerings meets students where they are on their education journey. Edland said there might be students with only the most rudimentary of learning behind them; on the other end of the spectrum, there are students who in their native countries may have been attorneys, business owners — or teachers. Fifteen percent of students taking some type of course in the past year either have some college education or college degrees.

There is also family literacy offered to parents in the form of parenting classes. Free child care is given, and parents not only have parenting classes, but some classes with their children, too. The program provides a win-win for both parents and their children, since it more easily improves skills when both are in instruction.

“This has been really successful; it’s a really helpful program,” Edland said.

Rooney noted that in GED studies, “retention is our biggest issue,” since many factors can impact how an adult student can progress.  Staff fashioned a success lab to fully explain the importance of the GED and how achieving it can impact their lives.

Edland said there are more potential students who can be served — a lot more. She said there are over 3,000 residents in Mower County who do not have a high school diploma or GED. Pressure on a low labor force has prompted some companies to hire employees without a GED.

The center also offers the ParaEducator Training Academy; to date, 41 students have been trained. The center also recently launched a distance learning program.

Since 2014, AAL has issued 522 industry-recognized Northstar Digital Literacy certificates. Its consortium (which also includes Owatonna, Winona, and Albert Lea) has been ranked among the top five across the state for the number of students achieving yearly level gains, they said.

Funding comes from a combination of state, federal and grant funding, including valuable support from the Hormel Foundation.

Edland said there is always a need for volunteers to assist the 12-member staff who operate the programs. Those interested can call 507-440-8701 for more information. Volunteers may work in a wide variety of roles, from teaching citizenship classes to working one-on-one with students.

Board members applauded the program – and it is praise well-earned, said Baskin.

“They work their hearts out,” she said.