At Sullivan Apartments, lives are changing for the good
Education is the passport to the future, as the saying goes.
And at Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments, those words take on key significance in the Adult Basic Education program, where Instructor Brenna Kane is guiding students onto high school equivalency degrees, better jobs, and more.
Kane teaches a dozen adult students four days a week in the Deborah Barton Neighborhood Network Center at Sullivan, where a classroom and a computer room are used to promote learning and knowledge. Students come from across the city and beyond.
For Kane, it’s a professional mission that comes with a personal passion.
“I love teaching adults. It’s such a perfect fit for me,” said Kane, who herself earned a high school equivalency certificate after leaving high school due to personal hardships. She has since gone on to college and recently earned a master’s degree in adult education at Pennsylvania State University.
“Students are so motivated, and they are more than that – they are making personal sacrifices to be here. They have children, they have jobs, they have elderly parents. And they’re here learning so they can do better for themselves,” she said.
Students also share their will to expand their horizons in new ways.
“I love this,” said Charlene Henry, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade, but remained determined to complete and move on to college and is now working toward that at age 42.
“I love my classmates and my peers. We’re all in this together, and we know it. Our teacher is very smart and very easy to talk to. She’s a good listener,” Henry added.
SHA has long had a commitment to helping those who live in public and subsidized housing by providing opportunities in the areas of health, education, job skills and early literacy. The Adult Basic Education program at SHA is open to all, a collaboration with Springfield Technical Community College funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education.
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan said education is key to making life improvements, and this program at Sullivan points people toward that end.
“When our residents succeed in any way, and that includes education, our city succeeds as well,” Jordan said. “Programs that provide opportunities for people to complete their formal education are helping our residents make life changes, and in very positive ways.”
Student meet Mondays through Thursdays, using both the classroom at the center as well as the computer lab next door. Kane has coordinated with SHA’s English as a Second Language program to share both classrooms for optimal use of each, and to the benefit of all participants.
Kane teaches five subjects: mathematics, reading, writing, science and social studies. Each of those is included on the HiSET exam that is used in Massachusetts to assess high school graduation readiness for adult learners.
Since students come to class with varying educational histories, and different levels of ability in the subjects taught, Kane and other adult educators must adapt, teaching in small groups at specific levels while keeping all busy with relevant work. In the computer lab, Kane’s students work with a program called Aztec, a computer-based software instructional system that provides diagnostic, personal learning experiences for those working towards high school equivalency certificates.
Kane begins each new group by sharing her own story of an interrupted educational experience, and asking students to explain their own circumstances. Most do so readily, and a clear closeness is evident as the class progresses. Students work at their own pace, and take the state HiSET assessment tests when they feel they are ready.
Their commitment and perseverance are also on display.
Charlene Henry, who is working hard to catch up in math and reading, has plans to go on to higher learning and a degree in health sciences, perhaps physical therapy, or some kind of work with autistic children.
“I know where my interests are now, and I want to make something good happen for myself,” she said.
Another student, Yvette Wiggen, had a sporadic and frequently interrupted formal learning experience due to a variety of issues, including homelessness. At 22, she is working to complete this program and then head to Springfield Technical Community College, eventually in a career that may include early childhood education, photography and the culinary arts.
“I’m catching up right now,” Wiggen said. “What motivates me is my past and what I went through. I feel like I should have been in college awhile ago. I want a better future.”
SHA Resident Services Director Pamela Wells praised the program for its focus and its clear success in helping to raise educational levels among participants.
“This is a program for those whose school years were interrupted for many reasons,” Wells said. “Earning a certificate that says you have completed high school opens up so many doors for people who are determined to be successful and independent.”
Anyone wishing to take adult education classes can visit STCC’s Adult Education Center, which is in Building 27 on the campus, or call 413-755-4300.
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Malcolm X
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