East Central College (ECC)

East Central College Adult Education and Literacy Director Alice Whalen wants people to know that the program at the college is growing stronger than ever.

So strong, in fact, that both the high school equivalency (HSE) and English language classes are growing.

The English language classes, which were discontinued in the 2008-09 academic year, were reinstated about a year ago. Now, night classes are being added.

In 2014, when Whalen began her work with the college, there were six college and career readiness sites and nine classes. Now, there are 11 class sites and 14 classes districtwide. 

Through a partnership with the East Central Area Literacy Council and YMCA Literacy, volunteer tutors have been added to enhance the programs.

Last year, more than 50 volunteer tutors provided almost 3,000 hours of tutoring, all free to students enrolled in the programs.

At one time, adult education served just under 300 students. Last year, more than 400 students were served throughout the college district, Whalen said.

Adult education is federally funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a workforce development program. It’s the same act that funds job centers, apprenticeships and dislocated worker training, Whalen noted.

“One of our goals is to shrink the skills gap, getting people a high school equivalency or English skills so they can get better employment,” she said.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education manages funds statewide.

And while budget cuts are a concern, Whalen said she’s more concerned about students getting left behind. 

Program a Godsend

For Catawissa resident Danny Dowling, ECC’s adult education and literacy program has been “a godsend.”

Growing up (in the St. Louis area), Dowling now 65, described himself as someone who struggled greatly in school. By ninth grade, when he didn’t understand any of the material, he dropped out.

“I wasn’t grasping it,” he said.

Dowling never learned to read. He found himself in and out of GED classes (now the test is called HiSET and classes are high school equivalency or HSE), but never earned his high school equivalency.

When he entered the workforce, a high school diploma wasn’t required, but as time went on, it became more and more important to employers.

Dowling spent most of his life worrying that if he lost his job, he wouldn’t be able to find a new one, first because he couldn’t read, and second because he didn’t have a GED.

“I got by with having street smarts,” said Dowling, who worked as a truck driver and in fabrication and welding for 30 years with one company. When that company closed, he worked various truck driving jobs. 

For all of those years, reading was a challenge.

Now retired, when he found out about the adult education classes offered at the Tri-Couny Senior Center in Pacific about four years ago, he signed up.

“I’ve been there ever since,” he said. “I went from not being able to read a sentence, much less a paragraph, to being able to read a book.”

One of his ultimate goals, which he has achieved, was to be able to read to his grandchildren — something he wasn’t able to do for his own daughter. His second goal is to earn his high school equivalency, which he is working toward.

Being able to read, he said, is “like a blind man being able to see.”

“I owe a great deal to this program,” he said, adding that his tutors and teachers, particularly Ann Trigg, Alice Whalen, with ECC, and Diane Schwab with the YMCA Literacy program, have helped him immeasurably.

Adult education day classes are held in Union, Washington, Sullivan and Rolla. Night classes are held in Union, Washington, Pacific, St. Clair, Sullivan, Cuba, Owensville, Hermann, St. James and Rolla.

English Course Success

In the English courses, Whalen said tutors meet each student where they are, learn their greatest challenges and work to help them overcome language barriers.

“They’re very smart and educated in their own countries, but they have to start over here (with language skills and American culture),” Whalen said. 

Two students, Dulce Hernandez-Rojas and Julie Patel, both came to the United States because of their families.

Hernandez-Rojas is from Mexico and lives in Washington. Her husband, Alejandro Jimenez Silva, got a job as an electrical engineer for WEG Electric Corp. (formerly CG Power USA).

She had taken English classes in Mexico, but when she got to the United States, she realized she needed more help.

When she moved here, the YMCA program was her only option.

Since then, ECC has reinstated its English classes and Hernandez-Rojas has completed the program and earned an AAS in business management and technology from the college.

Hernandez-Rojas said having classes through the college and a tutor through the YMCA helped accelerate her program. She’s been in classes with students from Ecuador, Colombia, India, China, the Dominican Republic and other countries.

Patel, whose husband owns the Super 8 in Washington and Union, came to the United States with her  husband and two children to be near family. She originally is from India, but lived in Paris, France, for 37 years. English will not be her second, but her third language.

Patel, who also lives in Washington, learned about the ECC classes through her YMCA tutor.

Both women said they feel more independent and thanked those who have helped them on their journey. 

“They do a beautiful job,” Hernandez-Rojas said.

“It’s a great program.” Patel added. 

English language day classes are held in Washington and Rolla.

For more information about the Adult Education and Literacy program, course offerings and sites, people may call 844-322-4235, visit EastCentral.edu/AEL or email AEL@EastCentral.edu.