Adult Education Responds to COVID-19 for Upcoming Academic Year
In order to safely and successfully continue the program for September, Adult Education is transitioning from traditional on-site classes to a learning approach with three models: a blended learning model of both online and on-site lessons, one-on-one virtual practice with a trained tutor, and a no-technology option. These learning models allow for smaller class sizes at The Gray House so that students and staff alike adhere to social distancing best practices, as well as provide increased scheduling flexibility and instructional time for the students. Not only will this approach promote enrollment retention and community building, but it will also improve learning outcomes. The development of computer skills is an essential component of the virtual practice aspect of these models, and the program will ensure that each student has his/her own Chromebook while attending on-site classes. For virtual practice, students will be paired with trained volunteers for assistance and be able to use Chromebooks at The Gray House by appointment. The English Conversation Circles and the Community Connection Skills Series, the other two components of the Adult Education program, will be virtual for the fall.
Adult Education Program Mission and Philosophy
The Adult Education program focuses on helping low-income migrants improve their English language skills while incorporating life skills. The goal of the program is to help them gain self-sufficiency, better integrate into their community and give them the skills needed to break the cycle of poverty. To accomplish these goals, the Adult Education program uses a three-pronged approach which includes Literacy and Beginner ESOL classes, English Conversation Circles for intermediate level speakers and the Community Connection Skills Series.
Using one-on-one and small group instruction which follow a set curriculum, The Gray House provides students with a safe, encouraging and supportive learning setting. Many of the students never received formal instruction in their native tongue, making the traditional classroom setting very intimidating. Not only are these students learning basic English language skills, but they are also learning how to learn and doing so in a supportive environment and community. Each class has a lead teacher assisted by trained volunteers. The ratio of teachers to students is typically 1:3. During the 2018-2019 Academic Year, 110 adult learners participated.
Students gain the educational skills needed to survive and succeed through this program which offers:
- Fundamental skills (reading, writing, math, finance, health and computer/digital) instruction
- Beginner ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes
- Literacy development
- Drop-in intermediate level English conversation practice
For more information on the adult education program, contact our Education Director, J. Aisha Mathews at Education@grayhouse.org.
Schedules and Levels
The Gray House offers three 12-week sessions throughout the academic year beginning in September and ending in July. All classes take place at The Gray House in the mornings and afternoons. Please see the class schedule and academic calendars below.
The 90-minute English Conversation Circles give intermediate and advanced English Language Learners (ELLs) the opportunity to practice their English conversation skills. The Gray House recruits advanced-level ELL volunteers to lead the circles and trains them in group facilitation. Many of these volunteers are former Gray House students. While the setting is informal, participants are expected to follow ground rules and each session begins with an icebreaker. This provides participants with the opportunity to get to know each other and practice working together. In large and small groups, the participants will complete a fun, challenging and thought-provoking team-building assignment. The English Conversation Circles provide a culturally aware and inclusive environment which allows participants to build vocabulary, expand their network, and converse.
Community Connection Skills Series
On Fridays, The Gray House Adult Education program will host presenters from several community agencies to acquaint the participants with the services they offer, answer questions and provide referrals for continued mentoring, coaching or assistance. The community skills scheduled for 2020 are:
- Business & Finance
- Legal Aid
- Employment & Training
- Health Connections
Volunteers are crucial to the success of this program. On average, 35 individuals volunteer 1.5 – 4 hours a week. Training is required for all volunteers before entering the classroom. If you are interested in being a volunteer, see our volunteer opportunities or contact 413-734-6696.
Who are Your Students?
Our students range from age 18 to 76. All of the students live in poverty, just above the poverty line, or are considered at risk. 100% are immigrants or refugees with poor English skills and who have not yet assimilated into American society. Despite many of them having lived in the U.S. for a number of years, they remain isolated in their own ethnic communities. Many of our students lack literacy in their native language, greatly magnifying the challenges of learning a foreign language. This lack of basic literacy skill, along with the trauma many of them have experienced, causes our students to typically learn English at a much slower rate. These students need much more individualized attention than other English Language Learners (ELLs).
Why Is Adult Education Needed?
A lack of education is a key indicator of poverty. The poverty rate has reached an overwhelming 46% in the 01107 zip code where The Gray House is located.
Of the adults age 25 and over, 53% have less than a high school education, 38% have a high school diploma or GED, and only 1% has a Bachelor’s degree or higher. This is a stark contrast to the respective State rates of 30%, 26% and 16%. These limited education levels result in alarming unemployment and income rates. Of the adults in tract 8006, 31% of are unemployed, 72% earn less than $25,000, and 68% live in poverty. Again this is in bleak contrast to the respective State levels of 7%, 7% and 20%.
In addition, 80% of the residents here speak a language other than English at home and 44% of those residents report that they speak no English at all or not well. Statistics show that education levels tend to decrease even more and unemployment rates increase for non-English speakers. Since education is key to career success and economic self-sufficiency, educational services are needed to help people learn, gain self-sufficiency and transition out of poverty.
Adult learners present a very diverse array of learning needs. Some people earned advanced degrees in their home countries and simply need to learn English. Others have never had access to education and cannot read or write in their native language, let alone in English. Some adults lack good experiences with school and are intimidated, overwhelmed or embarrassed. All need a safe, encouraging and supportive learning environment. They need individualized attention which addresses their personal learning styles, allows them to progress at their own pace, and helps them build confidence.
What do the Adults Learn?
Our adult learners gain the educational skills needed to survive and succeed. ESOL students develop communicative competence across the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. There is emphasis for these students to learn survival skills for daily communication, for example, being able to ask what time it is, understanding basic money terms and common greetings. ESOL students benefit by acquiring skills that help them integrate into the community, such as learning to communicate with their child’s teacher or advocating for medical care. Our students also learn to recognize and understand cultural differences, such as eye contact, punctuality and interpersonal space.
In addition to acquiring educational skills, many students also improve their self-confidence and leadership skills. An essential component of our classes is digital literacy. No matter what the topic, our students frequently operate computers and look up information on the Internet during class time. By providing marginalized students with these resources, they are empowered to better navigate the systems that surround them, leading to improved quality of life for both the learners and their families.
How do you Track Student Progress?
Via standardized assessment, students are initially tested during the intake process for placement into small group class levels. There is a post-testing at the end of each 12-week session to determine improvement and if they are eligible to move to the next level. Students who improve past the levels provided at The Gray House will receive assistance to enroll at another community program to continue their studies.