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Adult Education School focusing on life lessons and classroom teaching

Life lessons: Arlene Brock and Thaao Dill, of the Adult Education School (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The recently reopened Adult Education School is transforming the lives of mature students who were unable to graduate from high school.

But the school’s leaders insist that the facility provides much more than a chance for older students to finally obtain their GED or school certificate.

Arlene Brock, the school’s managing director, and Thaao Dill, its director of programming, said that the curriculum provides courses that improve the quality of everyday life for students.

The AES closed temporarily in June 2021, partially due to the pandemic, but also in the face of declining enrolment. An assessment of needs gave the school fresh impetus and new direction when it reopened in September 2022.

Speaking at the Hamilton Rotarians weekly lunch, the educators gave examples of some of the experiences that AES students had gone through.

Mr Dill explained that students had failed to graduate from high school for a number of reasons, but lack of intelligence was not one of them.

He told how one student now in his late 20s had been traumatised at the age of 9 after getting an answer wrong — and being ridiculed by his classmates.

Mr Dill said: “The impact that’s had on him is that every time he enters a testing environment he hears that laughter and feels that sense of shame and inadequacy and disappointment and guilt, and so has deliberately avoided occupying any sort of academic space as a result of that trauma.

“This is going back almost 20 years and it’s still taking up a space in his head.”

The pair revealed how one student had suffered from extreme social anxiety and had withdrawn into himself.

Mr Dill said: “He has been with us for eight months and we have intentionally built a space for him to feel comfortable and free and safe, and we believe that we’re seeing some fruits of this work.”

Mr Dill said that the student had to have a medical procedure, and his father was stunned to see his son engaging in small talk with his doctor.

He said: “It was the first time in his entire life that he has just chatted casually with a person and that was a demonstration that he’s grown.”

Mr Dill said that most AES students suffered varying degrees of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and that classes had to be tailor-made to suit the strengths and weakness of each student.

He said: “One of our learners — we discovered that independent study didn’t work for him. His prior experience was a big classroom and one teacher and we couldn’t replicate that for him.

“So in order to support his homework activity we set up a homework club so that he could have a co-worker to help him provide implicit accountability. Independent study just didn’t work.

“The work we do isn’t entirely qualified success-wise by a GED or gaining a certificate. It’s as much about individual learners’ relationship with the world and what they’re capable of.”

Ms Brock said that many mature students lacked confidence and, with jobs and parental responsibilities, needed “a fair amount of motivating successes along the way“.

She said: “We have to help people take charge of their own learning and we are co-facilitators in that process, and as a consequence we recognise that it’s not just getting a GED, which is what the school was focusing on before Covid.

“Now, as a result of the consultant work looking at what the community needed, we are now being very streamlined and specific about programmes.”

As well as academic classes, students are given life lessons in subjects such as time management.

Mr Dill said: “We’re helping them to walk the path that they have chosen for themselves. The vast majority of people that are seeking their GED are not doing so just because they want that piece of paper.

“They’re getting their GED because they want it to open a door for them, and another door and another until they get to their destination. We’re committed to walking with them and supporting them all the way through this pathway.

“These are the examples that keep us going.“

For more information about the Adult Education School, click here.

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Published May 11, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated May 11, 2023 at 8:22 am)

Adult Education School focusing on life lessons and classroom teaching

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