onboces

“E” is one of those students who many in the field of adult education would recognize. He is a big guy, and when he walks into a room, he does so with a confidence that comes from knowing his way around a street fight.

Growing up on the streets of Buffalo, he saw a lot of things that would make most of us run the other way. In fact, if you didn’t know him, you might run from him. But as is the case with so many adult education students like him, E is much more than a tough guy.

 

A high school dropout, E once saw himself as someone incapable of learning. That left him with two options: “look like a dummy or be a trouble maker.”

 

He is incredibly earnest, thoughtful, and intelligent, though he’s only acknowledged these qualities in himself recently. A high school dropout, E (he asked we only use his first initial) once saw himself as someone incapable of learning. That left him with two options: “look like a dummy or be a trouble maker.”

After years of being on the streets, he ended up in jail with very little formal schooling, but four months after starting a GED program hosted by ONBOCES (Orleans/Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services), he has his diploma and a desire to keep learning as much as he can before he is transferred to a federal penitentiary.

In short, E’s experience is an example of the impact adult education programs can have: providing a second chance for those who want to advance their education, regardless of how and when they make that decision.

ONBOCES is one of 37 BOCES in New York, designed to spur collaboration between school districts within a given county and avoid duplication of services. ONBOCES covers Niagara and Orleans counties—an area of the state where industries that once fueled the economy have diminished or disappeared altogether. Its adult education division serves over 1,600 students a year, offering classes ranging from literacy to citizenship to high school equivalency, and in 2013, it won a MAGNA Award from the American School Board Journal for its innovation in the field. It is one of our Beacon communities because it represents three key qualities for successful adult learning.

 

  • First, tireless teaching. Go into any ONBOCES GED or ABE (Adult Basic Education) classes and you will see instructors providing students – many who feel that schools have traditionally failed them – the kind of attention usually seen at elite colleges.
  • Second, all of ONBOCES adult education programs are infused with technology, even those delivered far from the traditional classroom setting.
  • Third, ONBOCES integrates social support across all of its adult education services to help eliminate any barrier to students trying to improve their lives. Students have access to a case manager who assists with living arrangements, day care, legal issues, and access to social services.

 

The agency’s head of adult education, Sue Diemert, is a force not only in the counties she serves, but statewide as well. For two years, she served as head of the New York Association for Continuing/Community Education, the association for adult education programs in the state. She also played a key role in implementing New York’s Literacy Zone program, an initiative to close the achievement gap in urban and rural communities with high numbers of individuals with limited literacy.

 

Since 2013, the agency has offered computer skills and high school equivalency classes at the jail – one of only two such programs in the state.

 

This forward-thinking approach is on full display at ONBOCES’ adult learning program at the Niagara County Jail. Since 2013, the agency has offered computer skills and high school equivalency classes at the jail – one of only two such programs in the state. Since starting the program, ONBOCES has helped over 200 students improve their academic skills. E and 35 others earned their high school diplomas last year.

Under Ms. Diemert’s leadership, ONBOCES run classes out of 25 sites – all equipped with technology. Her staff runs English as a second language classes for migrant laborers at the apple orchards in Orleans County. With a state-of-the-art computer lab offering programs like Rosetta Stone, Prezi, and Microsoft Office, students learn basic language skills as they gain experience with digital tools.

Digital literacy classes are also held every week for victims of domestic violence who are trying to rebuild their lives. About 35 women per week learn how to build their resumes or conduct job interviews, with the goal of sustaining jobs so they can move out of shelters when they are ready.

 

In the end, ONBOCES is important to highlight because it shows how technology must go hand-in-hand with a human touch; staff are committed to serving students inside and outside of the classroom.

 

In the end, ONBOCES is important to highlight because it shows how technology must go hand-in-hand with a human touch; staff are committed to serving students inside and outside of the classroom. Access to computers help students like E see how big the outside world is, and good teaching awakens interest in that world in students like the women in the weekly digital literacy class.

It’s how ONBOCES staff builds confidence in their students that makes it a beacon for adult education.

“I want to keep this thing going,” E told us. “I am like an old engine,” and with ONBOCES, “I got that good gas to keep me going.”

Tell us what you think in the comments:

How can technology help support adult learning in and out of the classroom?


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