COMMUNITY VOICES | Adult Basic Education and the GED

Michael Root and ABE class (Photo courtesy of Michael Root)

In both Minneapolis and St. Paul, the public school system offers basic education programs (ABE) for adults. These include ESL, GED, reading and math, college prep, career training, computer and citizenship classes. In Minneapolis these classes are offered at the Southside Education Center, 2225 East Lake Street, and in St. Paul at the Hubbs Center, 1030 University Avenue W.

Many adults in the Minneapolis ABE programs are recent immigrants from Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. Many begin with limited English language skills and start with ESL classes. Though many attended schools in their home country, their coursework or diploma is not recognized here, and since, given their age, they are not able to attend K-12 classes, their goal is to pass a high school equivalency exam (the GED) here in Minnesota; to prepare for the GED, they attend classes at the Southside Education Center in writing, literature, social studies, science and math. Licensed Minneapolis Public School teachers teach these classes.; often, the teachers are assisted by volunteers from the community.

I am such a volunteer. Since 2009, I have worked one or more days a week at the Southside Education Center and have assisted a number of teachers in a variety of classes, among them math, writing and grammar. However, since 2011, I have worked principally with one student, a blind young man from Ethiopia, Muzamil Ibrahim (aka Muzee). Last spring and summer, I helped Muzee prepare for the five GED exams (language arts writing, language arts reading, social studies, science and mathematics); in August, he passed his last exam, math. In a few weeks, he begins college at MCTC. On January 16, 2014, he will be part of a ceremony for ABE students who successfully completed the GED in 2013.

Passing the GED is a significant accomplishment, and even more so for students for whom English is a foreign language since three of the exams, language arts writing, language arts reading and social studies, assume students have grown up in the United States and assimilated many aspects of American culture. The language arts reading exam, for example, contained passages from novels like Huckleberry Finn, passages written in dialects or with references more familiar to native born than non-native Americans. I don’t know whether the new exams, those introduced in 2014, will increase or decrease the burden these ABE students face when taking the GED.

Right: Michael Root with class at Southside ABE

Students in ABE with disabilities face a special problem for, at least at the Southside Education Center, there is no office or staff for students with disabilities and, as a result, in most classes, few if any instructional materials are available (or at least in a timely way) in Braille or audio formats. Teachers with students with disabilities are without the assistance, equipment or training to assure their students a fair and equal learning environment and, as a result, are sometimes overwhelmed with the additional responsibility of teaching or mentoring students with disabilities.

While K-12 programs in Minneapolis and St. Paul, struggle for funding, ABE programs have an even harder time, with fewer resources and many students in need of special assistance or counseling, and yet no staff with the time or training to assist them. I am proud of all the students at Southside who passed the GED in 2013, but I worry about the new regime of exams in 2014 and the new challenges they pose to students in ABE and the teachers and volunteers who are committed to their success.

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    Michael Root