By HARRIETTE BRAINARD
MIDDLEBURY — Commence-ment exercises to be held at the Kirk Alumni Center on the Middlebury College campus this Wednesday will feature a slightly older class of degree recipients than most of the high school graduations going on in the area this month.
They also are, in some ways, more diverse than the typical high school graduating class, even though there will only be 40 dressed in blue caps and gowns.
The event, which kicks off at 6 p.m., is Vermont Adult Learning’s General Educational Development (GED) certificate and Vermont Adult Diploma Program graduation. Those who will take part had left high school for a number of years while others missed only a semester or a single year. All have returned to school to finish their education.
Laura Llanos, 21, is one such graduate who will be accepting her GED this week. Although doing fine academically, Llanos left high school in her senior year at South Burlington due to personal and family problems. Born in Bogota, Columbia, and adopted as an infant, Llanos realized she wanted to get a high school equivalency certificate and attend college so she started with the Vermont Adult Learning center this past November and finished her GED requirements in February.
The Vergennes resident said she has been very happy with her experience at the Vermont Adult Learning Center,
“I have always had trouble focusing on one thing. The teachers there helped me to understand that I had ADHD and therefore needed to have more time when I was tested,” said Llanos. “One of my teachers, Bonnie, was incredibly supportive — never judging me and treating me with respect. She was never demeaning and always made me feel good about myself.”
Llanos has been living and working in Vergennes for the past couple years, where she works with the elderly. She has made plans to move to Florida, where she is looking forward to some warmer weather, and will be going to the community college in Tampa, until she can apply to a state university.
Vermont Adult Learning is a nonprofit agency that is in its second year operating the 10 adult education centers around the state that full under the Department of Education’s “Learning Works” system of adult education and literacy programs.
The system grew out of a study conducted in the ’90s that called for the creation of a statewide entity that would remove some of the barriers to participation in adult education and increase the number of people who experience educational success. In a state where, according to the department of education, more than 80,000 residents lack the essential literacy skills to meet their full potential, the Learning Works has become an essential part of the Vermont educational system.
More than 1,000 people a year obtain their high school diploma or equivalency through Learning Works. All the centers in Vermont, including one in Middlebury, offer a wide range opportunities for advancement including: classes in English language, family literacy, and foundation skills; GED certification; the Making It Work program; and the Vermont Adult Diploma Program (VADP), in addition to other courses. The Vermont Adult Learning center in Middlebury, for example, offers a number of computer classes.
“There are clearly a wide range of ages and reasons for going through the adult education program,” said Ann Crocker, director of the Middlebury office of the Vermont Adult Learning center, which is located in the Community Services Center on Boardman Street.
“The people that are using these services include home schoolers — they have had about half a dozen kids who have been home schooled, this is a way that they can get their accreditation,” Crocker said. “There are also a number of kids under 20 who have left high school. Mostly they couldn’t handle it at the time for different reasons. Many in this group are incredibly smart kids but the school environment was not working for them.”
Then there are people like Llanos who are in their early 20s and have realized after working for a few years at a minimum-wage job that they want more out of life. They see that a college education will lead to a higher paying job.
Then there are older people who usually come into the program looking for credentials to get a new job or a promotion. There are a few who just want to be able to take some college-level courses, Crocker said.
“The elderly who come in to the program have decided to participate because it is always something that they have wanted, and now is the time,” she said.
“What is also unique about this system is that the bulk of the adult education in this state is done by paid staff,” said Crocker. “In most states the bulk of the work is done by volunteers. When work is done by a paid staff this usually means that the quality of the education will be better. We are proud of the quality of the work/education that we are providing. We provide good services and we invest in training the people that are providing these services.”
GED AND ADULT DIPLOMA
The GED program involves a standardized five-part, multi-choice test developed by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J. The test includes questions in reading, writing, science, social studies and math. There are significant grammar skills required for the writing piece.
The test, which is revamped every 10 years, is designed to ensure a 20 percent failure rate.
The adult diploma program is a more intensive educational program that Vermont Adult Learning centers offer. The adult student takes three diagnostic tests in reading, writing and math to be eligible for the program — they have to prove that they are capable of high school level work.
In this program an adult student will work with an adult diploma program (ADP) assessor in order to develop a portfolio of work, including about five projects. Students choose from among these topics: goal setting, civics, health, consumer literacy and awareness and employment. There are also two additional health related projects.
They are continually developing more projects to give the students additional choices. The work that is done for the portfolio is closely tied to adult life work, and can be related to subjects such as science, politics or math. Once the portfolio is developed and gets passed by the student’s assessor, it is presented to review team of the assessor’s colleagues. The student might have to re-do some of the work at this time, prior to the portfolio being presented to the superintendent of the school district in which the student lives. One has to be 18 to be eligible for this process.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, six graduates (possibly even seven) will get an actual diploma from their own high school through the Adult Diploma program.
“Sometimes,” said Crocker, “they will have adults who will get their GED, and then decide to go into the adult diploma program in order to receive a diploma from their high school. This program is usually a longer process than the GED program, and can take from six to nine months.”
This year there are graduates from Middlebury, Mount Abraham, Otter Valley, Fair Haven and Rochester union high schools.
The Middlebury office of Adult Learning has a staff of 12. There are five teachers for the adult learning program and three childcare teachers for a childcare program. In addition the Learning Works has a very good relationship with VSAC (Vermont Student Assistance Corp.), which is the student assistance scholarship program. One of the VSAC outreach staff comes to the Vermont Adult Learning Center once a week.
Staff in the Middlebury office also work with students who are interested in attending the Community College of Vermont to develop skills to bridge the gap between high school and college.
Llanos is looking forward to the upcoming changes in her life. What she really wants to be is a veterinarian, but she is aware of the difficulties and the competitiveness of this program so for now she is just taking one day at a time. She knows she has come a long way, and is proud her accomplishments and thankful for all the help she has received from the Vermont Adult Learning.
“If you want to help yourself and make the effort needed, you will find other people will be there willing and ready to help you as well,” she said.