Teaching more than just education

Published 3:33 pm Sunday, March 5, 2023

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Exciting things are happening at Albert Lea’s Adult Education Center. Just ask Penny Jahnke, coordinator at the center.

“We are doing a lot of adult career pathway classes,” she said. “We’ve always done adult career pathway classes, but this year we’re doing lots more as a region and as a state.

“If there’s one thing that COVID taught us, [it’s] that we need to do things differently.”

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Now, the center has more online classes, a fact she was proud of.

“We’ve gotten really good at figuring out how to do that in that fashion where people don’t have to be sitting in front of each other and we’re able to reach many more students.”

In fact, according to Jahnke, their consortium extends to Winona, Austin, Owatonna, Faribault, Red Wing and Rochester.

Adult Basic Education started back in the ’70s and is a program that helps students 17 and older who come to learn either English or are under a 12th-grade level in reading, math or language arts. The program is run through the Minnesota Department of Education and is part of the Albert Lea school district.

During the day, the center offers English language learner and GED classes, and will occasionally offer life skills classes and include sewing, CPR, cooking, digital literacy computer skills and math. They also have adult career pathway classes, a paraprofessional class and office a specialist class, among others. The center also partners with Riverland Community College for math and English prep classes.

The largest group of students the center serves are between 25 and 44, and Jahnke said the majority of students in that group attend to improve their English to do better at their jobs, attend a post-secondary school or attend some type of training.

She said she thinks there was a need in the area for places like the adult education center.

“We have a lot of people who need basic skills,” she said. “In fact, part of our funding is based on how many people at the age of up to 25 who do not have a diploma.”

According to Jahnke, within Freeborn County there are 3,375 people over the age of 25 and residing in District 241 who don’t have a diploma or high school equivalency. She said having a diploma or equivalency was important for her.

“I think that many of us know that many companies and businesses now require a high school diploma for advancement,” she said. I would say, until recently, you really couldn’t even have an employer look at you.”

She also knew of a few employers who wouldn’t advance a person to a managerial position if they didn’t have a diploma.

“For many of our English language learners who are coming to improve their language skills, again, it’s to improve their lives, to improve their families’ lives. The more they get better at English, the more they’re able to advance.”

To that effect, she didn’t want students to consider giving up, and said the center provided tools to help.

As of January, there were nine non-American students with a professional degree, and seven students had a secondary degree/alternative credential from another country. Almost 15% of students attending the center had education levels of eighth grade or below, and she attributed that fact to students spending time in refugee camps or being in countries where women weren’t allowed to attend school.

“Adult education is way more than education,” she said. “… we teach students how to become a part of the community, how to navigate their community.”

To that effect, she and her staff help students reach out to community resources and work with the Department of Human Resources, Workforce Development, Riverland Community College, the United Way and others.

They also teach students about Albert Lea, such as where to find the library and acquire a library card. They’ve driven students around to the hockey arena, partnered with SMART Transit, offer on-site child care and have guest speakers.

“It’s more about improving their whole life, it’s not just about the education,” she said. “We’re a pretty close-knit group, and we get to know their families, we get to know their children. We try and remove barriers for a lot of our students.”

John Double, executive director of Community Education, described the staff as “amazing.”

“They really do a wonderful job in working with our students,” he said. “We’re proud of all of our students that choose to further their education and come in.”

Jenna Krebsbach received her GED from adult education Aug. 23.

She decided to enroll in August 2021 because she said she thought enrolling would offer more experience and help open her range of job opportunities.

“It is helping me apply more to other jobs and getting the interviews that I would like to see,” she said.

She ultimately wants to be a school nurse.

“It’s helped me believe that I can achieve anything, and keep going and don’t give up,” she said.

Lourdes Linires started in 2008 wanting to speak English, something she didn’t do when she first started classes.

“Now she’s in the upper ESL class,” Jahnke said.

And it helped her when she previously worked at Select Foods.

Anyone interested in signing up for classes should call 507-379-4866 or visit the Albert Lea Area Schools website. They can also stop by for registration at their office: 211 W. Richway Drive.

“The hardest part is walking through our door or making that first call,” Jahnke said. “But once they do it I have not heard very many students regret it. In fact, I’ve never heard any students regret it.”

206: participants in adult basic education from May 1, 2022 to Jan. 17
55: percentage of students who are employed
13: number of countries students come from