JP celebrates adult education, literacy


Joe has come a long way since he started studying at the Friends of the Shattuck Shelter tutoring, program. He says, “My tutor is a great help. I can read and write better and feel more comfortable about myself.” His tutor, Betsy, finds great reward in tutoring, commenting, “I am surprised by how much support I am able to give.”

Joe is one of many hundreds of adult learners in Jamaica Plain enrolled in basic education, GED or ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes, tutoring or job training, and one of many thousands who need such services.

Boston’s Third Annual Adult Education and Literacy week will be celebrated from May 14 to 20 to honor the achievements of adult learners and to raise awareness about needs and services for adult literacy. The need is enormous: More than a third of JP residents speak a primary language other than English at home; 17 percent of JP adults say they speak English “less than very well”; and almost 20 percent of residents age 25 or older lack a high school diploma (US Census).

The JP/Egleston Square Adult Education Network is a coalition of community agencies that promotes basic reading, writing, and math, ESOL and job skills training, to provide maximum access and successful learning experiences to all JP and Egleston Square adults and out-of-school youths. Coalition agencies provide a broad range of services to address the community need for adult literacy, but waiting lists can be long in JP and throughout the city, especially for ESOL services, where waits can exceed three years. Many of the programs actively seek the help of volunteers.

GED Plus at Ensuring Stability Through Action in the Community (ESAC) promotes the empowerment of inner-city, at-risk, out-of-school youth ages 16-24 with morning and evening GED preparation classes. The program’s comprehensive support services include case management; career exploration; application assistance for college, training and financial aid; financial assistance for parenting youth; and referral.

The program helps students confront the mitigating circumstances and poor choices that caused them to drop out of high school and encourages young adults to look beyond the GED credential toward being happy, fulfilled and productive members of society. GED Plus provides a non-judgmental learning environment where students build confidence, expect more of themselves, and can make mistakes and still recover within a programmatic safety net.

The JP Branch of the Boston Public Library promotes adult literacy through its collections, programs and information services. The library has a variety of adult literacy materials such as ESOL and GED that patrons may borrow. The JP library hosts a weekly free conversation group every Thursday at 6 p.m. where people can practice speaking English with a trained volunteer. Available from the library’s web site, Learn-A-Test is an interactive platform of tests and tutorials where users can practice their skills in a variety of areas including reading, writing, and math.

If you live in JP, the Jobs for Jamaica Plain program at the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation offers free services to help you locate a job; one-on-one job counseling; resume writing and revisions; dress code workshops; mock interviews; referrals to employers; other referrals services such as ESOL, child care and housing; and will support you by helping you keep a job and advance in your career.

The Adult Education program at the Shattuck Shelter is staffed by volunteers and supported by the Friends of the Shattuck Shelter. It has run as a once-a-week evening program since the early 1990s and has been part of the struggle for a better life for many clients. The Shattuck Shelter was opened by the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in 1983, responding to the public health challenge of homelessness. The Shelter and its partner, the Friends of the Shattuck Shelter, continue to offer a range of programs for the homeless from street outreach to emergency shelter to programs assisting the clients out of homelessness. Currently, the Friends of the Shattuck Shelter is designing a more structured educational program than the previous one-on-one tutoring, and welcomes inquiries from potential volunteers.

The Jamaica Plain Community Centers Adult Learning Program offers basic education, GED, diploma, and ESOL classes in the evening and ESOL classes in the morning to over 300 adult learners per year. There is a very active volunteer tutoring program with training and support for tutors and in-class assistants. Opportunities for enrolled students include counseling and referral services, computer classes, employability classes, a distance-learning ESOL class and a student council. The instruction is participatory and student-driven, meaning skill work such as grammar or reading instruction is done in a meaningful context of content chosen by the students and teacher collaboratively. Pierre Line has studied ESOL for four years, rising from level one to level five, and is a founding member of the student council. For her, learning English means “I work so hard every moment; I never stop thinking about my education.”

Oficina Hispana is a non-profit community-based organization established in 1970 to support economic development and employment. Oficina Hispana has moved to a new downtown location temporarily. JFYNetWorks is supervising and housing the two ESOL programs. The Morning Basic ESOL Program is an intensive eight-week course from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday with a cost of $300 per session. The afternoon English Literacy/Civics Program is free and has three levels, which focus on grammar, reading and writing, civic participation, and conversation. This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:45 to 4:45 p.m. Oficina is striving to serve clients and would gladly accept any volunteer efforts.

The Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center (RIAC) provides a variety of services to refugees and immigrants, including resettlement, counseling, health care, cultural assimilation, job counseling and social services. It offers evening citizenship classes to refugees.

A display this month at the Jamaica Plain Branch of the Boston Public Library, 12 Sedgwick St. honors outstanding adult learners in JP, who will also be recognized at a ceremony at 11 a.m. on May 19 at the library, during its annual book sale.

The writer is the Director of Adult Learning Program at JP Community Centers.

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