NEWBERRY — Newberry County Adult Education, under the leadership of Director David Green, is being used as a model for adult education in other South Carolina districts after a 2013 audit by the State Department of Education presented 38 different commendations to the program.
Green has helped train adult education directors throughout the state as word spread about the programming. Since January nine adult education directors have visited, or made plans to visit, the school.
What makes the Newberry approach effective enough that others want to emulate it?
Green works with his team of teachers and support specialists to design and implement a skills-based system that breaks down tasks into smaller tasks.
Their system of adult education combines individualized instruction, computer assisted teaching and small group sessions.
Students take pretests to identify their particular skill levels in reading, writing, math, social studies and science. Math objectives, writing skills and reading skills are clearly defined and required for students to advance to the next level.
The step by step process means students avoid being retaught what they already know. Instead they focus on visible, specific attainable goals that get them closer to a GED.
Writing classes progress to students mastering a five paragraph response with supporting evidence of a thesis with proper documentation. That piece is one of the portions of the computerized GED test that students must pass.
Tasks are broken down into simple steps and then the learning builds upon that base. For instance, a student who struggled with writing might need to start with subjects and verbs before building up to complex sentences and paragraphs.
In the ELA classes, practical content like reading speeches, work instructions or charts and tables are used as building blocks toward job readiness.
Compassion, environment key success
Teacher Anne Caughman said she sees the compassion teachers and staff have for each student and how they want all of them to do their best and achieve.
“For some of these students, the first success they have had academically happens through adult education,” she said.
Around 40 students graduate each year with either a GED or diploma. The student population ranges from age 17 to age 68 but the bulk if this year’s graduates were ages 17 to mid 30s.
Some people come to adult education after company closings or layoffs. Some are dropouts who struggled to find a decent job without a high school diploma or GED. Some students return to refresh their skills while others are looking for a leg up toward improving quality of life.
Two ESOL (English as a Second Language) students became U.S. citizens as did an ESOL teacher.
Green spoke of one student, a civil engineer from Thailand, who was working in a restaurant because of the language barrier. He’s grateful for the work with his language skills that will help him get a chance to use all that education, Green said.
Green said some students tell them adult education helps them learn better ways to help their children or grandchildren at home as they go to school. Other students have told them that just the example of mom/dad/grandma attending school teaches their children volumes.
For others, adult education opens a door to service. To serve in the military now, one needs either a high school diploma or a GED, he said.
Adult education works with DSS, S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation, Probation, Pardon & Parole, and SC Works.
Green said adult education holds monthly celebrations for students of the month, one per each teacher’s class and for perfect attendance.
The staff helps make students aware of other incentives such as the $250 scholarship for a year at technical school or a $500 scholarship over two years that GED students earn.
There are financial incentives in some cases through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) for students age 17-22. Not only would the WIA pay for a student to attend adult education but it pays the GED test fee and pays a $200 stipend to a student when he or she receives a GED.
Students can use library computers. Some arrive at 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. so they can get more practice on the computers.
They also have opportunity to take WorkKeys testing before they leave adult education.
Workkeys certificates (bronze, silver, gold and platinum level) can go onto students’ resumes and help them become more attractive candidates to potential employers.
Several students with GEDs prior to January now are students at Piedmont Tech. All students as they near GED or diploma completion have the option to tour PTC and see what courses and programming are offered.
Appreciation for Education
“There is a greater degree of appreciation here because students are old enough to realize the importance of education,” Caughman said.
Some students walk or ride bikes to school, even in inclement weather, such that teachers have to give them rides home if the weather gets too bad.
Green said 90-95 percent of the adult education students are on welfare or government assistance but added that they also have taught the children of doctors in adult education.
The path to a diploma for a student under 18 or a GED for a student who needs more than just a few credits to graduate varies with each situation. Some students can complete the requirements they lack in weeks while others might need years to do so.
One district, one mission
“Our district motto is one district, one team, one mission. This audit further validates the positive contributions adult education is making to the community and district,” Green said.
A 14-year veteran of adult education, he said his school is only as good as the teachers and staff who fill it, many of whom are retired educators. He credits school success to the students’ direct contact with teachers who are interested in students as people as well as students.
“These are people who have been in the real world and they come here to work. If a student wants to cut up, he or she is in the minority among the serious students who refuse to tolerate it. It’s amazing to see a student who has behavior problems to turn his or her life around when the student is placed in the adult ed environment devoid of negative peer pressure,” Green said.
Adult education is free to the public. Enrollment is from September to April each year. Call 321-2112 for more information.