When you walk into the Adult Education and Literacy Center in Montpelier, you don’t feel you’re in a school despite the shelves filled with books and the tables set up with chairs around them. The space has its own special ambience, and the lighted lamps are welcoming on this rainy fall morning.
Teachers Deb Fadden and Joanne Vyce are getting ready for the day. The Montpelier center is part of a nonprofit known as Central Vermont Adult Basic Education and includes centers in Barre, Randolph, Waterbury, Morrisville, and Bradford. Their students may be teenagers, twentysomethings, or even grandparents, but they all have one thing in common: At some point in the past, their education was disrupted and now they want to begin the journey again. They may have left school to care for a child or to get a job. For some, the academics began to feel overwhelming. High school math is often an obstacle, but it’s not always losing confidence in academics that drives students to give up on school. For teenagers who feel left out socially, school can be a lonely or threatening place. This may be especially true for transient families who, for one reason or another, move from city to city until their children are left feeling they don’t belong anywhere.
The teachers at the center begin by getting to know their students, their history, and their goals. Some adult learners want to read more with their kids and to help them with their homework. An employer might recommend going back to get a high school diploma in order to move ahead at work. Others are thinking of new careers. Students may choose to work for a GED or decide to get a high school diploma and even continue to college. All paths are open to them regardless of age. Every student is driven by his or her own goals. The students are there because they want to be.
Many adult learners, however, face hurdles that traditional high school students never have to think about. How do you find the time and energy to study after working full time, especially if you also have a family to care for? What if you have a spouse or partner who doesn’t understand or even resents your ambition? For those adults, the path to an education can be an uphill climb.
Their teachers know how much these students need support along the way and that community connections can make all the difference in the world. The staff is assisted by a group of about 100 volunteers who offer tutoring and encouragement to the men and women with whom they work. Volunteers include everyone from building contractors to superior court justices. Strong friendships can grow from the volunteer-tutor/student partnership, as in the case of Alice Goltz and Garet Allen-Malley.
Allen-Malley has been volunteering at the center since 1990, even before she retired from her career as a Special Education teacher. She says she does this work to give back to her community and, she adds, “I love to teach.” Allen-Malley admires her students’ perseverance and values their friendship. “I look forward to seeing Alice.” Allen-Malley works to help Goltz realize her personal goals, whether it’s getting a learner’s permit or becoming a better reader.
Goltz is an upbeat learner and her eyes smile at you above the mask. “My reading and writing are much better. One of my neighbors is disabled and was having trouble getting a special license. I wrote a letter to the DMV so she would have places to park. I would like to be an advocate for victims of domestic violence too, so I took a course and I have a certificate.” Goltz likes talking over things with her tutor. “She’s very patient. We’re a good match.”
Reading has become part of this student’s life now, and Allen-Malley helps her find the biographies she enjoys. A book about Nelson Mandela was a special favorite. And she’s not stopping there. “I’ve got a lot of things I want to do!”
We can’t know all their stories or what brought them to the center, but Alice Goltz and her fellow students are inspiring. At a time when many of us are anxious about the state of our country and pessimistic about its future, it’s good to remember that America has always been a land of second chances.