My area of interest in pursuing the Masters in Adult Learning Program is in Adult Literacy. I must say that I was excited about this assignment! Not only would it provide me with the opportunity to finally meet with a person that I have been trying to connect with since the spring of this year, it would also give me the opportunity to view program planning from a different lens, that being adult literacy.
I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Carol Holmquist, Executive Director of the READ Center and Lead Teacher in Richmond, VA. The READ Center is a non-profit adult literacy program that is nationally recognized for providing adult education programs to residents in the City of Richmond and surrounding counties. The Center provides a wide spectrum of services, from the basics in learning to read to obtaining GED equivalency. The Center is governed by a Board of Directors and its staff consists of individuals who are part-time teachers to the program. The majority of the programs success depends heavily on the number of volunteers it attracts to assist the adult learners, as well as the number of adult learners that attend. The volunteers are properly trained to work with these learners and provide one-on-one tutoring.
Upon entering the READ Center, Dr. Holmquist greeted me with a warm welcome! She made me fell very comfortable and relaxed. I thanked her for taking the time out to meet with me. Briefly, we chatted about Dr. Muth’s READ 602 – Adult Literacy class then proceeded on with the interview.
Dr. Holmquist responses to the Interview Questions:
What special considerations must you address when planning programs for your adult learners? You can have a great idea as it relates to teaching reading, however, the key items of consideration are money, space, and demands. These issues must be handled early on. Attendance by adult learners and availability of services are also taken into consideration. When designing a specific program for teaching reading, you must take into consideration the grade level the learner is on 0-2, 2-4, or 4-6 and plan accordingly. You must also keep in mind that all the learners here are working on issues of comprehension.
What are the greatest limitations and/or constraints you face when planning a program? How do you deal with these issues?The physical capacity of students to attend. This program is totally voluntary, so learners aren’t obligated to be here; rather they attend for their own personal reason(s). Planning chunks of time from September – December, and completing pre and post test during this time is very difficult; however, we manage to get it done with the support of the teachers and volunteers… Another constraint is the ability to bring instructional materials and students together overtime. January is a hard month to get learners back into the swing of things, so in December we remind the students that the program will still be here in January and try and convince them to return.
Where do your ideas for programs come from? Are they dictated by administration/requested by learners or are they needs you recognize that need to be addressed? Program ideas come from the professional field of Literacy and our own experiences (all of the teachers in the program are or/have been teachers in other places), therefore, we are able to recognize and understand the needs of these learners. Another source is the National Institute for Literacy, which is a federal agency that provides leadership on literacy issues, including the improvement of reading instruction for children, youth, and adults. They provide a wealth of updated information including different learning strategies in assisting adult learners in reading. Lastly, ideas may come from tutor’s observations while working with adult learners one-on-one.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in planning programs and how have you over come them? The major challenge is money, funding and time. We are a non-profit organization so we must raise our own money. The Virginia Department of Education only provides us with a small amount of funding. The majority of our funding is obtained by writing grants, donations and gifts. In addition to normal operating expenses, our budget must include salaries for all of my part-time teachers, as well as my full-time salary. In an effort to keep within our budget, we provide only part-time employment for staff and will close and extra week or two during the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) when we know our learners attendance will be at a low. In regards to time, getting adults to attend the Center on a regular basis is a challenge. They attend this program for a different motivation, one that is self-fulfilling, as oppose to employment, where they know they have to attend in order to support themselves. This is why we provide late evening classes in an effort to attract those learners that really need our services.
In your experience, what has been the most effective program you’ve ever planned planned? What made it successful? Going from one-on-one tutoring to small classroom instruction. It gave the learners more exposure to learning in a classroom setting, engagement, letting them know that there were others on their level that shared the same challenges. It was successful because with this format there was consistent participation by learners, they were anxious to attend classes and share what they were learning. The teachers were there to assist them and they received preparation and materials at no cost. Since there is no expense on the part of the learner to participate in the READ Center’s programs, we hope that this will encourage them to continue attending, as well as attract others in need.
During the interview I was surprise to learn of the lack of funding that the Center receives from the Virginia Department of Education. I assumed that the monies would be plentiful for a program of this nature, especially, since they have been in existence for the last 25 years. Dr. Holmquist did share how people are not so excited when it comes to developing programs for adults; however, they tend to get really excited when you talk about developing programs for children.
Dr. Holmquist’s approach to planning differed slightly from the models we have been studying in class. This, of course could be because of the type of program and the population that it serves. However, in refereeing to Caffarella’s Interactive Model of Program Planning model is was clear to see how she proceeded with her planning process. As mentioned by Dr. Carter, not all steps are required as you proceed with planning; it really depends on the type of program you are evaluating.
The most important thing I learned during this interview is how different program planning can be for literacy programs, as oppose to programs relating to human resources development. The programs that we have studied thus far appear to be more structured and time consuming than this program.
In an effort to assist the many adult learners that are challenged with learning disabilities, literacy needs, English language speakers and the like; we have got to create and generate more funding, resources and programs to assist these individuals. They are all apart of this world, and if they are to be productive, law abiding, successful citizen, then we must provide the resources necessary to assist them.
To obtain detailed program information please feel free to view the READ Centers website at http://www.readcenter.org/