I came to the field of adult education, as many do, by accident. After completing my master’s degree, I picked up a class teaching high school equivalency (HSE) and English as a second language (ESL) as I tried to decide what my next steps were. Spoiler - I never left. I was immediately moved by the students in my high school equivalency class. Some were 17 years old, while others were nearing retirement age. What led them to step away from high school differed as well. I taught formerly incarcerated individuals, teens forced to leave high school due to bullying, and others who had needed to work to help their families and now had families of their own to care for.
Others shared a similar story to my grandma. She left school early to get married and start a family. After working for years at a factory, her employer presented the opportunity for her to stay after her shift ended and take GED classes on-site. My grandma earned her high school diploma while raising two children and working in a factory. When the life of an advocate for adult education and an adjunct instructor wears me down, I think of her journey, and I persist. It is for my grandma and all of my students that I speak up about the impact of adult education whenever I can.
September 19 – 23 is National Adult Education and Family Literacy (AEFL) Week. This week is a celebration of a field that often gets lost in K-12 and higher education discourse. Adult education programs receive federal and state grant monies to offer free or low-cost classes to communities. Look no further than Elgin Community College’s Adult Basic Education Center (ABEC) for a wealth of classes, including ESL, HSE, career bridge, Integrated Career & Academic Preparation System (ICAPS), and citizenship. AEFL Week is also a celebration of past and current adult education students who took the huge step to enroll in classes. In the fall 2022 semester alone, ABEC has registered more than 1,400 students in our programs, with most of these students not yet enrolled in classes outside of ABEC.
Adult education not only changes the lives of the students in our program, it positively affects family literacy. When young children struggle with literacy, people ask how schools can help. What support can be given to the child? Is there any additional practice their caregivers can help them with at home? Many overlook that 10% of children live in a household headed by someone who does not have a high school diploma.1 Those without high school diplomas statistically have lower income and a lower literacy level than those with a high school credential. Additionally, “a mother's reading skill is the greatest determinant of her children's future academic success, outweighing other factors, such as neighborhood and family income.”2 Therefore, if we teach the parent, we can reach the child.
So, this week, as we celebrate National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, I encourage you to take a moment to learn more about ECC’s Adult Basic Education Center and what we offer. Perhaps your skills are in communication and engaging folks. You can share information about National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week on social media. You may be surprised just how many connections to adult education you have.
-Erin Vobornik, ESL unit adjunct faculty
1National Association of State Directors of Adult Education