This article is the second part of a two-part series on adult education in the Virgin Islands. The first part included general information on the program at the Adult Education Center and looked at the unique challenges faced by students.
Jan. 24, 2006 — The Adult Education Center, which offers General Educational Development (GED) test preparation to students who did not finish high school, does more than challenge its students. The program in many ways challenges the teachers and administrators as well — especially in motivating students who are on the verge of giving up.
"I have some students who really want to learn and want to try," said English teacher Bonnie Braga. However, other students are less interested, and Braga said one of the hardest things for her is getting the students to want to learn. The English portion of the GED has some challenging parts for students, including a reading comprehension section that sometimes includes poetry and essay writing. To teach those, Braga says, she has to be flexible, while at the same time sticking to the relevant material — a difficult balancing act.
Another challenge for teachers is helping students at different education levels.
After students register for the program, they take what is called the TABE test, or Test of Adult Basic Education. Their test score then determines their grade-equivalent, and the student is put in classes with other students with similar skill levels. For example, program administrator Dahlia Adams tries to group students at the 7th-, 8th- and 9th-grade levels together in one class.
However, Braga said, the grouping system doesn't always work perfectly.
"I have students come from all over and they come in at all different levels," Braga said.
Some students don't speak English as their primary language, either, and take English as a Second Language classes from Braga. For them and her students for whom English is their primary language, she has to teach the difference between grammatically correct "standard" English — required on the GED test — and spoken English.
Since the students are more than 16 years old, Adams said, she cannot force them to attend class. So she does as much positive reinforcement as she can. Her many years as a teacher is evident in the way she interacts with students.
Adams spent more than 15 years in the classroom as a Spanish and French teacher, first at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and later at Addelita Cancryn Jr. High School. She came to the center because she was looking for a new challenge and a different way to help students.
"And a challenge it has been," she said, laughing. She admitted that she misses the classroom, but said she loves her new job.
On Adams' way to the center's new library, she asked a student sitting at a picnic table in the courtyard why he wasn't at class. (He was taking a practice test.) She then asked another student where he was going as he passed through a doorway. Her tone wasn't at all accusatory — it was concerned.
Earlier that afternoon in her office, Adams said, "If I don't do what I'm supposed to do, Johnny is going to end up on the street corner, Mary's going to end up on the street corner. Those are our next burglars."
And then there's the funding issue. In response to a question about the challenges facing the center, Adams rubbed her thumb and fingers together — the universal symbol for money. The program runs primarily off of federal funds, which are limited and sometimes delayed, Adams said.
Students pay a small amount each trimester to help offset the cost of books. Daytime students pay $70 per trimester. Costs for evening students vary but are generally lower. Some funding from the V.I. Education Department helps pay salaries.
Due to the center's tight budget, Adams said it is also difficult to get the word out about opportunities offered by the center. Word-of-mouth can sometimes be her best advertising.
"That's one thing I have to do this year — get the word out," Adams said.
Last year, Adams attended a meeting at Charlotte Amalie High School with students at risk of dropping out of school, their parents, and agencies that help at-risk students, like JobCorps. She said meetings like those help.
"A couple parents came to me, and their children have eventually come here," she said.
Despite the myriad challenges, the center has a lot going for it: small classes, a family atmosphere, flexible scheduling and a lot of support. Classes at the center generally have 10 to 15 students, instead of 20 or more in some public high school classes. And for students at the center, there's less peer pressure and fewer distractions than there would be at a large high school.
"They're doing everything they can to help me," said 22-year-old student Clayton Battice. "But I have to help myself so my teachers can help me."
What Adams needs now, she said, is more community support.
"I need the community to buy into what we're doing," she said.
To some extent, the community already has started to help.
When Adams started working at the center there were only three teachers. Now there is one full-time teacher for each subject.
Adams also said the center previously had no library. Thanks to a donation last year by S. Donald Sussman, the chair of Trust Asset Management, and with assistance from Sen. Celestino A. White's office, a library is stocked with GED study books and Caribbean history and literature. The library also has a media center with two computers, a DVD player, a VCR and an overhead projector system for the teachers.
Looking forward, Adams wants to add to the library, convert an unrenovated space in the historic building into a cultural room and start a computer lab for students. She says she'll take any donations of computers, printers or money.
"Help is help, and I'm not funny about help," she said.
If you are interested in more information about the Adult Education Center, its programs or the GED, call the center at 774-6899.
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