Adult basic education
By Valerie Scherbart Quist
An immigrant who moves to the area lacks the language skills he needs to get a job. A veteran worker loses her job after 25 years and lacks the computer skills she needs to get a new job. Where can these people turn for help?
Southwest ABE provides help in many different areas for those seeking adult basic education. Marshall Region Director Pat Thomas said the goals of adult education are very simple.
"In my opinion, adult education is all about giving people the skills they need to get a job," she said. This includes refugees with limited skills or young adults who dropped out of school and want to correct their past mistakes. We're all about helping people maximize their potential."
The Marshall consortium is one of 53 throughout the state of Minnesota. In 2004, the Marshall consortium joined with consortiums from Granite Falls, Jackson, Marshall, and Worthington into Southwest ABE. Southwest ABE covers 18 counties in Southwest Minnesota. Last year, the Marshall Region served 743 adult learners totaling 26,269 contact hours.
Thomas said a major reason for combining the consortiums was to garner greater funding. The consortiums can still operate separately, but money and resources can be shifted to where they are most needed.
There are several types of adult basic education offered by Southwest ABE, including GED and English as a Second Language classes.
Thomas said earlier in the decade, English as a Second Language drew a lot of interest in Tracy. However, when those people got jobs, interest in the class declined as people focused on work and family. Now, a class is still offered in Walnut Grove and transportation is offered for those from Tracy who want to attend.
Southwest ABE also offers many other tools for people in the area.
Earlier this year a swearing-in ceremony was held in Marshall for immigrants who had taken their citizenship test. Thomas said it took about a year of planning to get a swearing-in ceremony in Marshall. Area students were invited to the ceremony as an educational opportunity and around 300 attended, said Thomas.
Another major area where Southwest ABE is branching out is over the Internet. At www.marshalladulteducation.org, there are many tools available to help people with technology tips, reading skills, financial empowerment, and more.
Those who need to improve their reading skills may access a program on the website that has them read along with a recording.
"This curriculum is getting national recognition," said Thomas.
Another program on the site that helps with reading and comprehension skills uses a voice recording along with visuals. Thomas said this program was developed for ESL students, but also works well for small who are learning to read and write.
The goal of the financial empowerment program is to link financial institutions to local communities. The program was created with a $1,500 grant through Minnesota Extension. Thomas said after the grant was received it was realized that there were tremendous resources for financial empowerment but no link to the community.
Thomas said the website has been tremendously successful.
"We get hits internationally and from coast to coast," she said.
In addition to the technology tips offered on the website, Southwest ABE also offers computer classes. Last year, computer classes were offered in Lamberton, Wabasso, Redwood Falls, and Comfrey. Several other communities, including Tracy, are considering offering classes.
The classes are offered in an open lab format, and each individual can receive up to 30 hours of free computer training every year. Thomas said the open lab format allows people to work at their own speed while still receiving help. The goal, she added, is to help people gain the computer skills they need to get a job or to get a better job.
Another area where Southwest ABE reaches out to communities is through collaboration with public schools.
Thomas said she works with school counselors to reach out to high school students in danger of dropping out of school. In many cases, she said, a student does not have enough credits to graduate due to a variety of circumstances. If a student is at risk of dropping out, he or she is given practice GED test. That way, areas where a student needs improvement can be identified and extra help can be given to ensure that the student passes.
Thomas said a very important aspect of adult basic education is that the state chooses to invest in the program. In some states, adult basic education programs only receive funding on the federal level. Earlier this year, Thomas addressed committees in both the state Senate and House to promote legislation to increase ABE funding. The legislature has agreed to appropriate an additional $1.25 million for ESL services for each of the next two years.
For more information on Southwest ABE-Marshall Region and the programs that are offered, visit www.marshalladulteducation.org or call (507) 537-7046.
Lyon County Government Center • 607 W. Main St. • Marshall, MN 56258 • (507) 537-7046