Adult Ed Launches Distance Learning
Pilot Opens Access to Even More Students
Kalamazoo Public Schools Adult Education has launched a new distance learning initiative to provide students with yet another way to pursue their high school equivalency.
Already the adult education program serves about 450 students annually, with an average 50 students graduating every year.
Students can access KPS adult education services at six sites throughout the community, and the program maintains an open test center that no other adult education program in the county offers, said Kimberly Bell, leader of the adult education program for KPS.
“In adult education, we don’t have boundaries,” she said. “If you can make it here, you can attend here. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
But, even with those open policies, sometimes it is still difficult for students who want to pursue their high school equivalency. Work, childcare, and transportation can all pose barriers for students.
“Distance learning addresses those barriers and provides students with another opportunity for success in reaching their academic goals,” Bell said.
Teacher Dana Gay is spearheading the distance learning effort, which involves students working remotely with learning software that students use for credit recovery in high schools, as well as Screencastify, which allows her to create custom 10 minute videos for students struggling with specific content areas.
The new program launched in September. Currently, Gay is piloting the program with four students.
Gay said she began talking to Bell about the possibility of offering distance learning about a year ago. Bell worked on finding grants to provide additional support for the effort and putting the technical logistics in place for the program.
So far, Gay said she’s pleased with the effort. Students are required to score a 145 on their tests to earn their GED, and the students in her program have been passing in their 160s.
Gay said she would not call herself a “techie” in any way, but she does like technology’s potential to help students achieve their goals.
“I like what it can do for education, and I’d like to use it for our advantage and the advantage of our students,” she said.
One of the big challenges for Adult Education students is access. Many are working or have family responsibilities that can make going to a brick-and-mortar program difficult.
“They can’t come 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 12 to 3,” she said. “With this program we’re seeing good attendance, by that I mean they might not be seated in class, but they are showing a real commitment to the program.
“I have students who are logging in at 11 p.m., after working their jobs and taking care of children all day.”
Students interested in the program must register at the Adult Education office, located in the Community Education Center in Old Central, where they are tested to evaluate where they are in their educational journey. It’s then that they can discuss, whether they want to attend classes to work on their GradPoint program at CEC or if they want to try distance learning.
The distance learning students must have reliable technology, but more importantly, Gay said, they must have a good work ethic and be willing to commit to active participation in the program. It requires students to check in daily with her and lays out weekly and monthly goals, with the hopes of students earning their GEDs within four to five months of starting the program.
“We set the bar high, but we can adjust it as we go along,” she said.
While the students work on GradPoint, Gay is constantly monitoring their progress. If someone stumbles over a specific content area, she can create a video for the student to provide more in-depth explanation and assistance on that specific topic, such as plant and animal cells or fractions. The videos she creates are generic enough that they can be re-used with future students struggling in the same areas.
The distance learning provides independence and freedom, but it does not come without challenges. Not seeing students face to face means that it can be difficult to build a rapport with them, but she is making phone calls to talk to them, especially early in the process, and the videos are personable — students can see her talking to them.
“I admire my students,” she said. “I think they’re brave for trying this new class. We have a broad spectrum of students in Adult Education. We’re trying to find ways to accommodate all of them.”