By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor
“This is an exciting time to be involved with the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program in Caledonia. The ABE program has recently expanded services to include new students and to offer more options to new and existing students,” said Rande Gustafson, La Crescent-Hokah Community Education director.
Gustafson went on to explain that the Houston/Fillmore County Pathways to Success ABE Consortium made up of 10 school districts merged this year with three other Southeast Minnesota ABE consortiums. The merger has formed a new SE Minnesota ABE consortium which serves 27 school districts from Winona to Faribault and Owatonna to Austin and Albert Lea.
“With this new consortium we captured approximately $185,000 in additional state and federal dollars to provide ABE services to SE Minnesota residents,” Gustafson noted.
The ABE program has been in existence in Houston County for about 15 years. Nancy Runningen and the Caledonia Community Education Department has facilitated the program.
“Nancy will still be serving as our fiscal agent,” Gustafson said. “But I will be serving as the contact person at my office in La Crescent. The program will continue to be offered at the Workforce Development office in Caledonia.”
Gustafson went on to explain that funding for the ABE program is predicated on the number of persons participating in the program. For a number of years the Houston/Fillmore consortium had sites in Caledonia and Preston. In an attempt to increase participation, a third site, in Rushford was given a try. But the numbers just weren’t there.
Marketing the program
“Marketing this program is very important,” Gustafson said. “I don’t think there are a lot of people out there who know anything about the program. By getting more information out there about the program and expanding it to a broader area, I feel we will be able to reach a lot more people.”
GED online classes
The current expansion includes incorporating GED online services. The Caledonia office now has a certified GED online instructor, Laura Eglinton. She will be assigning, correcting and grading work online.
“There are many benefits to the online option, as some people have barriers to attending traditional classes,” Eglinton explained. “Some may have transportation or daycare barriers.”
Eglinton also pointed out online classes are also available year round, while traditional classes are not held on school holidays or during the summer months.
The new format can assist a person working toward a GED with fewer hassles,” Eglinton added. “Students may work strictly online, or choose to use a ‘hybrid’ system of some online and attending some classes for additional instruction.”
Requirements for the ABE online classes are:
• A working computer with internet connection and current software not older than Windows 7;
• A ninth grade reading level, as determined by initial assessments;
• A sixth grade math level, as determined by initial assessments;
• A working knowledge of email and the internet;
• A willingness to come into a regular classroom setting to complete registration and initial assessment;
• A commitment to complete at least three lessons per week as assigned online.
Gustsafson also reported they are working with Workforce Development Inc. on implementing a Blandin Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities grant. Grant monies totaling over $15,000 are available to provide basic computer training locally for adults of any age.
“We hope to utilize these funds to provide computer literacy classes through our ABE program this winter and spring,” he said. “These classes are very basic and open to adults of any age.”
Education for inmates
“We have just begun a two to three day a week ABE class at the new Houston County Jail,” Gustafson reported. “We are working with inmates on basic literacy skills, helping prepare some inmates for GED tests, helping those interested to learn basic computer skills, and helping with job skills including resumes, job applications, interview skills, etc.
“Houston County Jail Administrator Mark Schiltz has been extremely helpful and cooperative in setting up this opportunity,” Gustafson pointed out. “And there is no cost to county taxpayers for this program.”
“The inmates were all surveyed to learn what they would be interested in,” Eglinton said. “Many inmates are looking for a GED as a way to increase their employability and/or attending post secondary education. These classes are held Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.”
Eglinton said the response has been excellent. Of the 20 persons currently incarcerated in the county jail, 13 are enrolled in some type of education through this program.
“We have also connected and will be working with both the Houston County Attorney’s and the Houston County Probation Offices to have, when appropriate, ABE classes as a part of an individual’s sentencing and/or probation.
“This is something I have been very passionate about for a long time,’ Gustafson said. “If we can get these people interested in furthering their education and making them more employable, the chances of them returning to jail are much less.
“We want them to be customers, but not repeat customers,” Gustafson concluded.
For more information on these programs, contact Gustafson at (507) 895-5153.
You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]