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Live United: Adult learning programs a benefit for many in the area

Live United by Erin Haag


I have always liked the creativity of developing new programming. When I first moved to Minnesota, I worked for Austin Public Schools in the Adult Basic Education Department. Many people think that is where you get your GED or for English language learning. Yes, it is about those things, but what I love about adult learning programs is the ability to go far beyond the GED or English language learning.

Erin Haag

We were able to design classes based on the needs of our students. For examples, new refugees and immigrants that were taking English language classes could also learn about how to handle a Minnesota winter. This was a huge deal for adults who had never seen snow and thought that a warm jacket was what I would call a rain jacket. I remember one class where the teachers and I poured buckets of water outside to create ice on the parking lot. I’ll never forget the looks on some of the student’s faces when they realized just how slippery the ice was. 

When you arrive at a new place, the first order is usually finding a job. Our large employers are generally well equipped to provide jobs even if you don’t speak the language. However, how can you juggle a family, working and classes to learn English? Often it goes by the wayside. Adult learning stepped in and brought the classes to the workplace. Fort-five minutes before a shift started, students were immersed into the English language.

Albert Lea has its own adult learning program. Back in the day, I used to go to the state conferences with Penny Janhke, director for Albert Lea adult learning. We’d brainstorm, talk about the differences in our programs and how we accomplished the goals. I was so very impressed with the fact that Penny was able to secure a grant to assist in transportation for her students. Albert Lea adult learning also is unique that it provides child care for students who attend classes — a program that United Way of Freeborn County funds. Without the option of child care, attending GED or English language learning classes would be out of reach for many.

It doesn’t stop there either. With the challenges of scheduling, distance learning options were developed for students able to study and learn at home. Adult learning staff also addressed the barriers of technology by coordinating with Peoples for PCs to provide low-cost computers for students. This particular accomplishment had impeccable timing, as the schools shut down the week the computers arrived.

Adult learning programs in our region have developed relationships with Riverland Community College, hosting classes on campus. Not only are students able to become familiar with the campus, some are actually co-enrolled in both the adult learning program and Riverland Community College, gaining valuable support in the areas they need, while still moving forward with their education. 

For someone who likes developing programs, I’m sure you can see how that appealed to me. I’m proud of the programs that I helped implement, and especially proud to see the students who graduated from my classes moving on. My office was right on the Riverland campus, and I developed relationships with the deans, instructors and counselors. We provided options for students who struggled with the placement Accuplacer test. For many, it was a sense of pride that they were able to keep coming to Riverland for classes, and it made their goal very tangible, motivating them to keep going forward.

One of my first students is now a college graduate in the field of social work, and involved in local government. I still remember the day that I told him he passed his placement test and would be able to start in English 101 that fall. He danced down the hallway, so full of joy that he was able to move forward toward his goals. I see him often in the media now, dressed professionally with a style all his own. His brand of enthusiasm and passion for community is contagious, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.   

This fall looks different for everyone, and Albert Lea adult learning isn’t immune to that. However, they will be able to offer options for distance learning as well as in-person classes. Transportation and child care are available on a limited basis.

Registration for classes is on Aug. 26. Classes start on Aug. 31. To learn more, call the adult learning program at 507-379-4866. Education is for all of us, from the littles in our early childhood program to our adults making plans for a better life.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.