‘You are all lifelong learners’: Students receiving ESL certificates, GEDs celebrated

Published 6:08 am Thursday, May 23, 2024

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By Ayanna Eckblad

It was a happy and emotional day Wednesday morning as Brookside Education Center held its annual Adult Student Achievement Celebration for the 2023-24 school year.

Students were recognized for earning their English as a Second Language certificates and passing the General Educational Development test. Students came from many different ages, cultural backgrounds and life experiences.

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“Today we’re celebrating all the students who come to school every day,” said Adult Education Center coordinator Penny Jahnke. “We have students who come to learn English, and we have students who are earning their GED.”

Brookside Education Center’s adult classes this year had a total of 297 students. These students represented 25 different countries and 17 different languages.

In addition to over 16,000 hours of contact learning, students completed over 1,000 hours of distance learning as well. This was especially helpful for people with schedules not allowing for traditional classroom hours.

The ceremony began with a brief welcome by Jahnke and continued with adult education teacher, Thomas Delano, and adult educational assistant, Pra Yu Ri, awarding certificates to the year’s graduating ESL students.

“These students are a blessing to our community, and I am incredibly blessed to have been a part of their lives,” said Delano after the ceremony.

All students were invited to speak if they wanted to. Several did, taking time to cheer on fellow students and thanking loved ones who helped them in their educational journeys. A few guests — mainly friends, children or partners of students — even spoke on behalf of their loved one.

Twenty-two students received GEDs. Those who earned ESL/GED certificates were announced by adult education teacher Jennifer Sorlie. Those who earned exclusively GEDs were announced by Jahnke. Many of the students were commended by their teachers and peers for completing their education while also being a parent and/or working full time.

One student, Jazmin Bueno, earned her GED while being a parent and acting as a caregiver for a family member who had cancer.

Another GED recipient, Suzanne Beach, spoke about the importance of not giving up if success is not achieved right away. She said getting her GED has opened up many doors in her life that were previously not available.

“It means the world to me. It really does,” Beach said. “I’m very proud of myself.”

In addition to students, family members and Brookside faculty, Albert Lea Mayor Rich Murray and District 23A Rep. Peggy Bennett spoke at the ceremony.

“You are all lifelong learners,” said Murray, encouraging graduates to continue pursuing skills and knowledge to broaden their lives.

Bennett also congratulated the students and said seeing their hard work makes her excited for the future of Albert Lea as well as the state of Minnesota.

Students, guests and teachers were invited to stay after the conclusion of the program for refreshments and to take pictures.