Emory Report

March 6, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 24

Adult education expands its offerings

By Eric Rangus

Emory has offered Adult Basic Education (ABE) and General Educational Development (GED) diploma preparation classes to its employees for several years now. The execution, though, wasn't always smooth.

The University had a working agreement with DeKalb Tech, which provided instructors. The teachers were part-time employees at DeKalb, but once they got full-time positions, they disappeared from Emory, hurting the ABE program's continuity.

The program still helped a lot of people, but absenteeism among the students was high, and there was a feeling that the program was not fulfilling its potential.

In January, that problem was addressed.

La Shanda Perryman, a 1998 graduate of the business school, was hired as the full-time ABE instructor, and every aspect of the program became her responsibility.

"I was told 'Make it better, market it--and, by the way, you have to teach it, too,'" said Perryman, who does not have a teaching background. After graduating from the business school, she took a job as an administrative assistant in the neurology department. It was a move that was outside her area of expertise and a position for which she was probably overqualified, but she hoped it would open a door to something else. It has.

ABE classes are offered at no cost (the University also picks up the $45 tab for the GED test), and any Emory employee is eligible. They meet for two hours on Tuesday and Thursday and include in-class assignments and homework. Having a high school diploma does not make anyone ineligible. If a student is planning to attend a technical school or junior college and wants to brush up on certain basic English and math skills, ABE is an excellent way to do that.

Each student has an individual curriculum specifically tailored to address their weaknesses. For instance, everybody completes the same English lesson, but one person may have additional spelling or grammar questions. "Sometimes it's easy to judge why people have a GED, or why they dropped out [of school]," Perryman said. "Sometimes it's a self-esteem issue."

When new students join the class, Perryman meets with them one-on-one. This gives her a chance to get to know the students on a personal level. She asks them about their background, their goals, the reasoning behind their enrollment and other questions to get a handle on the person.

She then administers the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE), which measures the grade level of the student and suggests a starting point for the student's curriculum. If a prospective student tests at the sixth-grade level or below, he or she will start in ABE classes. Students at the eighth-grade level or higher will receive GED-level coursework. A seventh-grade level requires additional assignments to determine if that person can take GED prep work. Perryman's current roster of students ranges in age from 18 to over 50, and they have a variety of education backgrounds.

"I've had to make a lot of adjustments," Perryman said about her first two months on the job. "If I see something's not working, I'm not going to force it."

Perryman's arrival has significantly affected the program. Enrollment has more than doubled (from six to 14), and discussions have begun about the possibility of adding satellite programs at Facilities Management, Crawford Long and Emory Hospital.

Perryman credits the support of supervisors across the University, many of whom encourage employees to attend classes. Without their understanding (classes are scheduled during business hours), Perryman said, the ABE program could not succeed.

In lessons, Perryman attempts to go beyond the basics of addition and subtraction and diagramming a sentence. She teaches her students to think creatively and pay attention. And while the larger classes can be more difficult, Perryman relishes the challenge.

"Six is a lot easier to handle than 14," said Perryman, who also teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) classes twice a week. "The position is very demanding, but how many people can say the work they do makes a difference in someone else's life. That keeps me going."

ABE/GED classes meet 1:30-3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more information, call 404-727-7023 or send e-mail lperr01@emory.edu.

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