By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
This is how to play the long game in adult literacy.
“It’s easy for a non-profit to get money for children, it’s not as easy for adult education, but it’s the adults who hold the key to a child’s success,” said Vivian Ang, executive director of the Keizer-based Mid-Valley Literacy Center (MVLC).
MVLC provides tutoring services for area residents seeking to expand their skills in English conversation, reading, writing, computer skills, GED and citizenship test preparation. Since its inception five years ago, MVLC has trained 450 tutors working at 26 sites in five counties, It averages between 500 and 600 students each year and 75 percent of students pass the tests for receiving their GED.
Ang founded the organization five years ago after a similar service, then provided by Chemeketa Commuity College, was axed in a round of budget cuts. Earlier this month, MVLC received a $30,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust that will cover some of the expenses for continued growth.
The grant was awarded to address three areas of need: formal training for Ang and MVLC board members on development and fundraising; $10,000 for a volunteer coordinator; and training on new GED requirements and best practices for tutors.
At the beginning of the year, GED requirements were revamped and raised to assure those passing the test were college- or job-ready. Completing the GED prior to January 2014 required passing five tests in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Under the new guidelines, the reading and writing sections were combined into a test called reasoning through language arts. The new test requires a level of critical thinking previous iterations of the GED did not. But, Ang said, it is a welcome change that requires a new approach to the material.
“Test takers now have to take a math concept and apply it in a work setting. The problem is we’re asking them to make a big leap and it’s intimidating,” Ang said.
In 2013, MVLC tutors shepherded 65 students to passing the GED, but enrollment took a hit in January when the new GED standards were adopted.
“It’s looking like we’ll pick up again after some of the initial fear has worn off, but we need to be prepared to help students in the best way,” Ang said.
While community colleges continue to offer courses in English for speakers of other languages, the environment is not one conducive to success, she said.
“If you send a student to a class at a community college they are in class with 25 to 30 people and they’re not getting the one-on-one attention or the practice they need to be successful,” Ang said. “They need small group tutoring where it is low stress and high success.”
MVLC also works with local employers to address specific needs even when the students choose not to pursue their GED. When Pfeiffer Roofing supervisors began noticing challenges on the job because some Latino employees couldn’t converse with clients, they contacted MVLC and Ang helped develop a curriculum tailored to the needs of someone working in the specific field of roofing. Since then, MVLC has developed similar programs for Kerr Concentrates and Ang just started conversations with management at NORPAC Foods.
“A lot of our students attend with help from their employers, but a scholarship only covers half the cost. The student has to come up with half because they are more likely to attend if they have a monetary stake in the program,” Ang said.
One of Ang’s next projects is developing a course in medical terminology.
While the grant from Meyer Memorial Trust is a boon to the organization, Ang also sees it as defining the larger general need for adult education like MVLC provides.
“We can teach a child to read, but if they don’t have the support system at home, they won’t have the motivation to continue. If we can teach a parent or grandparent to read, they’ll go home and start reading to the kids. We’ve helped establish a new tradition,” Ang said.
And that’s how to play the long game in adult literacy.