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Adult Education School returns, aiming to arm students for life

Reimagining roles: Arlene Brock, managing director of the Adult Education School, with Thaao Dill, director of programming (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

A “reimagining” of an alternative education centre includes ambitions of growth and new courses tailored to the needs of adult students.

The Adult Education School, with 20 students at present, aims to take on as many as 50 later this year.

The Hamilton-based school, which launched a pilot series of workshops last week, also seeks to add more staff for its classes meeting the goals of adult learners – along with undoing the trauma lingering from their negative experiences in previous classrooms.

As adult students gathered at the Dundonald Street headquarters for the first of a workshop series, The Royal Gazette met managing director Arlene Brock and director of programming Thaao Dill.

Ms Brock, a former Ombudsman of Bermuda, is the niece of the school’s founder, Merle Brock Swan Williams – a teacher from the Berkeley Institute who went on to open the alternative school in 1958.

Ms Brock said the AES assessed itself after suspending operations in June 2021 – partially due to the pandemic, but also in the face of declining enrolment.

“We asked, is there still need? Can we get the necessary leadership to put the energy in? And can we obtain funding?”

The yearlong feasibility study entailed talks with more than 100 community partners, alternative education providers, government officials, employers and potential donors, to “understand what the community needed from the school”, she explained.

In recent years, the AES had settled into a routine of mainly offering General Education Diploma classes.

Catalyst Consulting, run by Martha Dismont, carried out the survey – and Ms Brock said the firm’s answers to the school’s three questions about its purpose came back with “a resounding yes” to each.

“This is our 65th year and so the board decided to reimagine the school,” Ms Brock said.

“What came before is the AES 1.0 – this is version 2.0.”

Ms Brock said it took five people to replace her “Aunt Merle” on tutoring, mentoring, wraparound needs and referrals.

“Part of the recommendation was to systematise and formalise what had been done originally,” she said.

Ms Brock said it also planned to rebrand as the Adult Education Centre to reflect “our broader offerings and partnerships”.

Mr Dill came aboard with nine years’ experience as a recruitment officer at the Bermuda College.

The school hired a pathways co-ordinator and three tutors, but the AES has another tutor coming on board next month and plans to add another in September, along with another pathway co-ordinator.

Currently, the AES costs almost $50,000 a month to keep running.

But with the backing of its donor community, who get regularly updated with “mission moments”, the school plans to grow.

A Modern School’s Near-century of History

The home of the Adult Education School, at 16 Dundonald Street, was once the sprawling residence of a Mr and Mrs Heber Cooper.

It was built in 1929 from stone cut on-site.

The broadcaster Kenneth DeFontes bought the building in 1974, with residences upstairs and storage for his TV business downstairs.

It was then sold to businessman Eric Lockhurst, and bought in turn by the Adult Education School, which extensively renovated the building.

A circle of its history was closed when two great-grandchildren of the Cooper family attended the AES as students.

The new curriculum consists of three “pillars”, starting with the foundation of “GED-plus”.

Mr Dill said: “The key defining characteristic of GED-plus is we recognise that, in the vast majority of instances, people are seeking the GED not as the culmination of their accomplishments, but a means to an end.”

Mature students seek the qualification for reasons ranging from further studies to employment, earning a scholarship, or getting promoted.

“GED-plus is intended not only to provide academic instruction, but to support learners as they walk down the rest of that success pathway,” Mr Dill said.

“It can be helping them to apply to college, or connecting them with people in the field they hope to enter – all the supplemental resources.”

Specific training on offer includes courses such as time management, or honing study habits.

Mr Dill added that some younger learners were not used to dealing with official paperwork.

Pillar two courses include help with employability and resumes, as well as how to handle job interviews.

Students who complete their GED can get IT skills including Cisco networking with the help of Bermuda Technical Institute alumni.

Pillar three workshops are aimed at helping attendees “learn about the world”.

“We think pillar three has a wealth of possibilities for creating a vibrant debate within yourself and your community.”

Mr Dill said the AES was “not a school where learners are subordinate to instructors”.

“We are driven by what a learner wants.”

Ms Brock added: “Many people have been traumatised by the traditional approach or left behind, left in the back of the traditional classroom.”

For most students, classes start off with as much one-on-one instruction as possible, tailoring the AES experience to specific needs.

Mr Dill said: “The learner can see that academic trauma can be worked through in ways that respect their history. It can be a purifying place.”

He added that some students in their fifties or seniors could come to the school with specific and wounding memories from childhood encounters with “a careless teacher, unkind peer or family member”.

Some have come through public, private and home education with the hurtful awareness that “it has not worked at any point”, Mr Dill said.

“What they say here is it’s the first time they have felt safe in a classroom.

Over its history, the school has transformed the lives of more than 4,000 people in Bermuda.

“We’re not just teaching but transforming people’s lives,” Ms Brock said. “Every time we engage with someone, it is with that in mind.”

The Adult Education School welcomes all aged 16 and up wishing to re-engage with their educational goals. It can be reached by e-mailing aesbda@gmail.com or calling 705-6677.

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Published March 07, 2023 at 7:43 am (Updated March 07, 2023 at 7:19 pm)

Adult Education School returns, aiming to arm students for life

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