September is Adult Literacy Awareness Month, an appropriate time for an annual checkup to assess how well our community is meeting its ongoing need for adult education. At LearningQuest – formerly Stanislaus Literacy Center – there is much to celebrate: new programs, an improved funding picture, and ever-strong public and private partnerships.
In August, LearningQuest and the Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE) launched Destination Graduation. Next door to LearningQuest’s 11th Street downtown offices, Destination Graduation offers adults of any age the opportunity to earn a high school diploma or pass the GED test for a high school diploma equivalency. Through this unique partnership, SCOE provides credentialed teachers to work with students to earn high school credit while LearningQuest provides supplemental tutoring and workshops for both the completion of high school credits and preparation for the GED test.
Area churches are becoming champions for literacy, GED preparation and English classes. Two churches have opened LearningQuest affiliated programs and two more are in the planning stages. Churches bring volunteer tutors and space for classes to the equation; LearningQuest provides tutor training and technical support. Furthermore, a concerned group of community leaders are working on connecting the graduates of these grass-roots programs to area jobs.
The financial recession of the last few years resulted in an educational recession as well, reflected in less funding for literacy programs at the very time that the need for such programs was increasing. Fortunately, community members stepped forward and generously gave over $30,000 last year to support an evening GED program where students study to pass either the English or Spanish GED test. The program, which opened in February 2014, is now seeing its first graduates and continues to offer classes to newly enrolled students as well.
Also last year, the California Department of Education offered a new grants opportunity for local nonprofits and school districts; this in turn has increased the funding to Stanislaus County for adult education by over half a million dollars.
State funding for literacy also comes to Stanislaus County from California Library Literacy Services. It is a testament to the partnership between Stanislaus County Library and LearningQuest that our county receives the largest grant in the state due to the breadth of our literacy and adult education programs, and the funding provided locally.
County agencies continue to partner with LearningQuest to provide literacy and GED preparation for welfare-to-work programs, for individuals seeking to transition successfully from incarceration to the community, and for those moving from unemployment to a living wage. These partnerships have provided a continuum of educational services from basic literacy to a high school diploma.
LearningQuest volunteer tutors are the backbone of our program and one of our most valuable assets in the fight against illiteracy. More than 150 trained tutors are currently working one-on-one with adult learners. However, more tutors are needed to serve the dozens of adults on the waiting list. Volunteers report that tutoring gives them the chance to help change their community in a very personal and rewarding way.
Though there is still a gap between needs and available services, I am happy to say that, thanks to the commitment of public agencies, businesses and individuals, that gap is closing. As a community, we should be proud of weathering the recession of adult education and excited about moving forward stronger and more effective than ever before.