Headed back to class: Adult education in demand in Scarborough

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SCARBOROUGH — Trisha Papa, a 23-year-old mother of two, has dreams of becoming a preschool teacher.

Last week, with the help of the Scarborough Adult Education program, she took a big step closer to realizing her dream: Papa passed the math portion of the General Educational Development test.

“I’m terrible at math, but they made it pretty easy for me,” she said.

Papa worked one on one with an adult education tutor to brush up her skills before taking the test. She also took other classes in the GED program, including history, reading, and writing. The entire process took her six months.

“The support was overwhelming. I would recommend it to everybody. My experience was great,” Papa said.

Papa is one of many Scarborough residents who take advantage of the variety of programs available through the Adult Education Department. Jo Anne Sizemore, the assistant superintendent of schools and director of the adult education program, estimated that 650 people take advantage of the diverse program offerings each year.

“We’ve been trying to expand our offerings,” Sizemore said. “We’ve had a lot more interest lately.”

The department is different than some in the surrounding area, because Scarborough’s programs are run and funded through the schools, rather than the town. This means the correlation between high school students and the Adult Education Department is nearly seamless.

Sizemore said between 55 and 85 high school students take advantage of the diploma classes, which can help struggling students earn enough credits to graduate with their class.

As the economy continues to stutter, many people are looking to further their education and make themselves more marketable. As a result of increased interest, the budget for the adult education program has steadily increased, from nearly $82,000 in 2008 to a proposed budget of more than $110,000 for fiscal 2011. The increase is almost entirely to cover teacher salaries and expanded programming.

“Next year we’re offering Chinese and we’re hoping to have a pro-engineering class. High school students interested in going to school for engineering might be interested in that,” Sizemore said.

She said the school is also hoping to be able to offer a certified nursing assistant course, something she said many people have expressed interest in.

Scarborough’s adult ed program is not just about academic classes. This semester, residents could take classes in encaustic painting, guitar lessons, sewing and landscape design. There are classes in more serious topics as well, including a variety of computer and software classes, boating safety, an introduction to Medicare, and even classes for parents about keeping children safe online.

Most of the classes cost a small fee, generally between $10 and $90, however, the GED testing and tutoring are free for Scarborough residents. Classes sponsored by the Southern Maine Agency on Aging are also free.

Sizemore said the department works with instructors to determine a fee that will cover the school’s facilities and equipment costs as well as the instructor’s salary. Classes with fewer than five students do not run.

Nicole Marceau, who leaves her teaching job at Scarborough Middle School at the end of the school day to teach a math lab for adult education students, said she loves the opportunity to work with a diverse group of students.

“Math lab is different than traditional classes,” Marceau said. “It’s really a self-directed class.”

Marceau, who has taught for the program for six years, has students in her class who are struggling in their traditional high school classrooms and need more one on one attention or additional credits to graduate. She also has students who are studying to pass the community college entrance exams or going for GEDs. She said the biggest challenges for the students are not in the classroom, but at home.

“It’s really the economic piece. I had one student who was 45 minutes late because he had to walk two hours to get to class. I had another student whose parents work out of state, so she has to watch her three young siblings all night. They come in with a lot of baggage,” she said.

However, for Marceau, that’s what makes the classes so important. Teaching students basic math skills that they can apply to real world experiences, such as how to calculate a tip, is something she has come to enjoy.

“A lot of them have hated math all their lives,” she said. “This makes math not something awful for them. This is definitely something I’ll continue doing.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net