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Hope is first step toward change at the adult education programs of May Dugan Center

by Joe Narkin

(Plain Press, March 2011) Education has been a matter of class and circumstance for far too long and for far too many people in the City of Cleveland. A partnership between the Education and Resource Center of the May Dugan Center and the Lakewood City Schools ABLE Program offers adult learners the opportunity to overcome educational barriers and realize their maximum potential.

Virtually 100% of the students in Cleveland public high schools come from households that are economically disadvantaged and only 53.4% graduate with a high school diploma, according to facts provided by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD).

When nearly 50% of high school students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) do not graduate, it would be grossly inaccurate to describe dropouts as people who have fallen through the cracks. Rather, these are people who have been swept into a chasm by socio-economic circumstances and a school system that has failed them.

And the Cleveland school system has experienced a multi-generational pattern of failure. Nearly fifty years ago, Michael Harrington, author of The Other America: Poverty in the United States, warned that, “If fathers and mothers of the contemporary poor were penalized a generation ago for their lack of schooling, their children will suffer all the more.”

“We see students who are used to being pushed to the margins, who are used to being caught up in a bureaucracy,” said Sue Marasko, a teacher with the GED program at the May Dugan Center. “They assume that they are not going to be accepted well and assume that they are not going to do well,” she said.

“The first step is getting them to believe in themselves and the first thing that we have to let them know is that we are absolutely committed to their success,” said Marasko. “The Education and Resource Center is often the place where people can feel some hope,” said Rick Kemm, Executive Director of the May Dugan Center.

“It is an enormously positive and brave step for our students to reach out for help,” said Terry Hamovitch, Coordinator of the Lakewood ABLE Program. But progress is not always straightforward for adult students, many of whom have children and experience numerous social and economic stressors in managing their daily lives. “At first, success may be showing up every day or calling that they are not coming; that is success because we have engaged them,” she said.

The ABLE Program at the May Dugan Center takes a highly individualized approach to adult education. “We adapt the program to individual needs and let them work at their own pace; we don’t want to have a teacher centered type of program that drove them out of the system in the first place,” said Hamovitch. Accordingly, “the program is not based upon a semester system and is not time limited; students can enter the program at any time and the program is there for them as long as they need it,” she said, adding, “We never give homework; when they ask (for homework), we give it.”

The Lakewood ABLE Program at the May Dugan Center offers educational assistance in reading, writing, and math skills for students who wish to enhance their employability, prepare for the General Educational Development (GED) test, and seek assistance in obtaining the skills and guidance necessary to enter college.

The May Dugan Center also offers an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program. The student body of the ESOL Program includes a significant number of students who are political refugees from other countries, including Burma and Somalia. “The ESOL Program is very respectful of the traditions and practices of other cultures,” said Kemm.

The May Dugan Center has created a state of the art computer lab in a space that has been specifically designed to enhance the learning environment and show respect for adult students. In a time of restricted financial resources, many adult education programs are consigned to makeshift environments. “This is how I want students to be treated,” said Hamovitch.

Students in educational programs at the May Dugan Center have ready access to the other services provided through the agency, including case management, counseling, and assistance in meeting basic needs such as employment, housing, food, clothing, and furniture. “So many of our students have other needs and the May Dugan Center offers a comprehensive web of support for our students,” said Marasko.

For more information about the adult educational programs and other services of the May Dugan Center, please call (216) 631-5800.

PHOTO BY JOE NARKIN Thursday, January 27, 2011; May Dugan Center, 4115 Bridge Avenue: Rhoda Turk practices to take her GED Test at the May Dugan Education Resource Center.

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