It’s hard to make a good living without a high school diploma, not to mention higher education or training in a trade. But how do you go back to school if you’re hungry, homeless or have small children and no child care?
“We asked, ‘What else can we do to support learners?’” said Teresa Malone, executive director of the Durango Adult Education Center. “There are additional barriers adult learners come with, and they’ve come so far and are working so hard toward self-sufficiency, we needed to help with those situations.”
This year, thanks to a gift from a new resident in Durango, the center has been able to create a support program for its students called Building Opportunity and Occupations for Self-Sufficient Transitions.
“It’s because sometimes people need a boost to get ahead,” said BOOST coordinator Claire Sheridan, who came to the center from La Plata Youth Services. “These are all people with potential, smart, ready to succeed, so full of energy.”
Many students are housing insecure, Malone said, with one garbage bag holding their belongings. One student exchanged baby-sitting services to sleep on a couch in a mobile home, others have needed assistance with transitional housing. Some have been helped with rent to stay in their housing as Sheridan works with organizations such as Housing Solutions of the Southwest to resolve problems.
Because one young man’s mother couldn’t take time off work, Sheridan got his Medicaid straightened out and took him to the eye doctor for glasses so he could see the blackboard. The center provides lunch and snacks so students have adequate nutrition to learn, child care, budgeting help, as well as résumé, goal-setting and job-hunting support.
“We had a young woman in crisis one morning after a domestic-violence episode,” Malone said. “Thankfully, Alternative Horizons is just down the hall. We wrapped her in a blanket and took her down, and they got her set up at the (Southwest) Safehouse and everything.”
Another student, a 19-year-old woman, passed her first section of the GED test, and they realized she had no safety net, no one to call to tell them her good news.
“So we popped for ice cream, and we all celebrated,” Malone said.
That young woman will be taking the certified nursing assistant exam this weekend, and the certification will significantly improve her income, Malone said.
Virtually all of the more than 160 students at the center have come to Sheridan for help with something, she said, whether they’re preparing for the GED test or learning English as a second language.
“We like serving human beings here, not just certain qualified people,” Malone said.
‘Happy with what we’re doing’
The ultimate goal at the Durango Adult Education Center is to improve people’s lives through education. Since the GED test was rewritten in 2014, the number of people taking the test has dropped by 75 percent.
“People hear how low the GED passing rate is, and it makes them afraid to even try to get it,” Malone said. “But we’re happy with what we’re doing here, happy with our passing scores and our graduation rates.”
The center redesigned its curriculum after the GED test was rewritten. The four subjects on the test – language arts reasoning, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies – are taught two at a time at the center so students can focus on the subjects. Students are encouraged to take only the sections on the GED battery of tests they’re ready for, and the center has found they often have more success just taking one or two at a time.
If a student is not prepared for a subject at the end of the eight weeks, the center will offer one-on-one tutoring when it can, as it’s doing for a 19-year-old who had gone to work at 14 to help support his family and had never been exposed to algebra.
“We have a lot of organizations and people such as (La Plata Electric Association) and the Women’s Resource Center, who sponsor people to take the GED,” Malone said. “They know the students are ready, we’re watching out for that investment.”
After students pass the GED test, the center pays for them to take the Accuplacer college entrance exam to verify they’re ready for higher education.
Their system seems to be paying off. While the number of students taking the test has dropped for the center just as it has across the nation, the center’s students have a passing rate of 91 percent, significantly higher than the 77 percent state and 63 percent national passing rates.
“We presented the BOOST program at a state conference for adult education centers,” Malone said. “A lot of other centers are closely watching how this is working to see if it might help more of their students pass, too.”