‘Age is not a barrier’

Published 6:28 pm Thursday, May 16, 2019

Albert Lea’s Adult Learning Center celebrates program graduates


For students graduating from Adult Learning Center programs Thursday, one teacher had a specific hope: that this end is not the end for their education.

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“I hope that this isn’t your last step,” Adult Basic Education teacher Betsy Schroeder told students. “Our school should not be anybody’s last step. It should be a step toward learning — being able to learn more.”

It is not the last step for Sakari Schultz, who was recognized along with her husband, Alex Schultz, for receiving their GEDs. For Sakari Schultz, the GED was one step toward an intended career in nursing. She said she plans to attend Riverland Community College in the fall for CNA classes.

Alex Schultz said the Adult Learning Center helped them provide a better life for their family and children.

“You can’t do much without it anymore these days,” Alex Schultz said of his new GED.

While Alex Schultz worked, Sakari Schultz would stay at home with their three children. The child care offered alongside Adult Learning Center programs meant they could both attend school, Alex Schultz said.

In addition to child care, Alex Schultz said both were recipients of scholarships that paid for their GED testing.

“Even that just helps a lot,” he said.

According to Penny Jahnke, Adult Basic Education coordinator with Albert Lea Area Schools, almost 50% of the center’s students have jobs and families in addition to their studies at the center.

Adult Learning Center student Rose Subek said she wants to continue her education, and she hopes her children will do the same.

“I should push them,” Subek said. “When they’re reluctant, I have to go back to school so they see, ‘Oh, mama is going back to school. Why not us?’”

After Subek started school with the Adult Learning Center, she said her daughter — one of her six children — also went back to school for pediatrics.

Subek also emphasized the importance of educating women and the importance of the role women play in a family. Children see a parent’s pride in their own educations, and may seek that out for themselves, she said.

“When you educate a woman, you educate a world,” Subek said.

Subek graduated from two programs Thursday: English language literacy and the new health career exploration class.

“I’m so grateful to be here,” Subek said as she received her English language certificate.

She thought she was too old to learn, she told fellow students and ceremony attendees. She knows differently now.

“Age is not a barrier for education,” Subek said.

The health career exploration course is offered with the intention to help students transition into health care careers, Jahnke said. The Adult Learning Center, along with CareerForce (formerly Workforce Development), saw health care workers were a regional need.

“When we look at hot jobs, health care is one of them,” Jahnke said.

Students who took the course were able to explore different health care career options.

This year, the Adult Learning Center offered 11 different classes and served 210 students from 19 different countries speaking 10 different languages. The program saw six students receive their U.S. citizenship and 18 students graduate with their GEDs.

This is a higher number of GED students than in the past, Jahnke said. She attributed part of that to Bridon Cordage closing in Albert Lea in September. Additionally, the group had several male graduates between the ages of 18 and 20 who did not finish high school but were able to complete their GED at the Adult Learning Center, Jahnke said.

But increases in GED graduates were not matched by English learner numbers, which Jahnke said were lower both in Albert Lea and statewide. The unemployment rate is low, and many students took new jobs and left the program, Jahnke said. Additionally, immigration is down in Minnesota.

Adult Basic Education math teacher Gale Nelson also said student continuity within the program is a challenge. However, she said the program is filled with students who want to learn.

“The students work really hard,” she said.

Several students shared the reasons they work hard and attend these classes.

“I want to help my family,” English language literacy graduate Der Lweh Paw said. “My family can’t speak very well.”

Others echoed Paw’s motivation, while some said learning English would help them get a better job.

Students will go on to work, go to college or open businesses, Jahnke said.

“This group is making our community better,” Jahnke said.

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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