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Improving lives through Adult Basic Education classes
DEC. 5, 2011
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GED and ESL classes also offered in Cokato at no charge

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

COKATO, MN – With many people out of work, Cheryl Molenaar’s job may be more important than ever to help people get back on their feet.

As an Adult Basic Education (ABE) instructor, Molenaar, who has a degree in special education, assists individuals at no charge to help them to be more competitive in the workforce.

“A lot of people who have been laid off, go to the workforce center, where they recommend more skill-building,” she said, adding that ABE can provide that at no cost.

The program, which is housed at the Dassel-Cokato Area Learning Center (Coldwell Banker building on Highway 12, Cokato), is offered Monday’s from 5 to 8 p.m.

Available to ages 16 to 60-plus, the program is quite individualized in that people can walk-in when they are able and be serviced as needed, Molenaar explained. There are typically eight to 10 students on any given Monday, she said.

Prior to beginning the program, a person must take a reading and math assessment test. “Then, we just go from there,” Molenaar said, giving students the tools to prepare for further assessments.

Those with a diploma can decide the areas which they want to improve, whether it be keyboarding and computer skills or mathematics and reading.

Tony Thomann, regional manager for Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services based out of Monticello, said that statistics across the nation show people with more education, have been left relatively unscathed by the recession.

“Your educational attainment is directly linked to your long-term success in the workforce,” Thomann said.

In addition to furthering one’s education, the program offers support and understanding by others who are in similar situations, said Molenaar.

June 2010 through June 2011, there were 33 students in the ABE program, receiving 556 hours of instruction. The numbers decreased from the year before – likely due to the improving economy (see sidebar) – when the program was at an all-time high for attendance.

This was a trend reported throughout the school districts within the Willmar-based consortium, said Perry Thinesen, director of DC Community Education, which coordinates the local program.

From June 2009 through June 2010, there were 48 students in the class, and 641 hours of instruction were given.

GED program offered

Molenaar has also been working with people to earn their General Education Diplomas (GED). In the past three years, there have been roughly 20 students who earned their GED through the program offered in Cokato.

“That diploma affords students to move to the next level,” she said. The next level may be degree program or a better-paying job.

“Without a diploma, they are going to work minimum-wage jobs,” she said.

“Once they walk through the door, it’s really a positive in the their life span,” she said.

The program works on all content areas including science, social studies, reading, writing, and math.

The length of a program varies depending on the individual and how much preparation is needed to pass the final GED test.

“It’s time well-spent,” Molenaar said.

ESL classes offered

Currently, the majority of Molenaar’s students are those learning English as a second language (ESL).

She has students from the Ukraine, Russia, Mexico, Vietnam, and China, all learning to speak or improve their English. “It’s all levels,” she said, from basic literacy all the way to advanced.

This program is very individualized and the curriculum is user-friendly, with dictionaries in each of the languages.

Molenaar isn’t fluent in each of the languages, but said that many will come able to speak basic conversational English, which she can then understand in order to communicate.

“It’s very scary for the first two weeks for them, but the tools we have are very user-friendly,” she said.

“It’s been proven that students who come in and have a non-bilingual teacher, progress faster than if they have a bilingual teacher,” Molenaar said. “If they are forced to communicate from the beginning, they learn faster.”

Molenaar finds her job to be very rewarding and enjoys working with each individual.

“It’s a privilege for me to work [here],” she said. [The students] provide much to my life.”

For more information regarding any of the programs offered, contact DC Community Education office at (320) 286-4120.

Unemployment rates are improving

According to Tony Thomann, regional manager for Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services, things are looking much better in the job market than last year, but particularly two years ago, when the economy was at its lowest point in the recession.

Department of Employment and Economic Development reported its most recent (October) unemployment numbers for Meeker County at 6.1 percent, down from 7 percent reported in October 2010, and 8.5 percent in October 2009.

Wright County’s unemployment rate is currently sitting at 5.5 percent. This is also down from data a year ago (6.5 percent) and two years ago, at 8.1 percent.

The state average is currently at 5.4 percent, considerably lower than the national rate of 8.5 percent.

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