PUBLISHED: 4:29 PM on Wednesday, April 4, 2007
The Learning Center goes beyond adult education

Photo by Tamara Clover
  Delores Mazon studies at The Learning Center.
The former Juneau Adult Education Center recently changed their name to The Learning Connection to reflect how their services extend beyond adult education. While the adult education programs are centered on Ferry Way downtown, The Learning Connection meets the needs of entire families through their centers in the housing communities of Gruening Park, Cedar Park and Geneva Woods. The Learning Connection is under the SERRC (Alaska's Educational Resource Center) umbrella, but whereas SERRC serves families and schools all over the state, The Learning Connection is only in Southeast and is completely funded by grants. In a couple of months, 225 adults from several Southeast communities will gather in Juneau's ANB Hall for a May 25, GED graduation ceremony. Joan Pardes, PR coordinator for The Learning Center, said that some past graduates have since achieved striking successes, going on to jobs at the legislature or with local banks.

This year's graduates will be of all ages, and have found different motivations to help them complete the certificate. On a recent Thursday afternoon around lunchtime, the Ferry Way center in downtown Juneau, was bustling with small groups of students and teachers eating lunch or studying. Jose Perez, was studying for one of the five GED tests at a computer. At 32 years old, Perez said that he has simply grown out of "looking for a quick fix." Now looking ahead for himself, Perez is almost finished with all of the five tests required for a GED and hopes to take a job with a construction company or as a heavy machinery operator. He says he wants the employers to come looking for him.

Studying at a table behind Perez with her books and notes spread out in front of her, Sophia Rodriguez is an eighteen-year-old student who has decided she wants to attend beauty school and find a high paying job. She's currently looking at schools in either Anchorage or Hawaii, but is finding her future plans are giving her the drive to get her GED completed now. She says she knows that both the GED and the school will help her to find a job wherever she decides she wants to be.

Studying Science a nearby table, Delores Mazon is a 42 year-old mother of three. She is eager to share paragraphs she has written for practice while she works to complete her GED. She didn't always like having people see what she wrote, and once before she even let herself get discouraged to the point of quitting after she had trouble with a couple of the tests. However, she's learning how to find confidence, despite hearing people tell her she is "too old" for this. She is motivated by the desire to set a good example for her children. She says that being able to study with her children shows them "the life you go through to get your education."

Mazon has found that the one-on-one support of her instructors is important. Over her lunch in the small kitchen, Marjorie Baguya also mentions the attention of the instructors as a key element of the Learning Connection. Baguya is in the vocational program, the only program offered by the Learning Connection that charges tuition from students. She'd tried it once before in 1992, but had dropped out and didn't remember receiving the same amount of help from instructors at the time. Also, today she has the support of William Lockhart who, she says, "may as well be taking the course with me;" he helps her with homework and meets her for lunch. Lockhart is a diesel mechanic who hopes to open his own shop and while she pursues her BA in business at UAS, Baguya wants to work with him and manage the financial side of the business.

Among the courses she's taking through the vocational program are Business Math and English, Keyboarding and computer skills such as Applications and Formatting. Public speaking has been the most challenging for her, but she's finding it easier now that she's getting comfortable with answering questions and elaborating her ideas in front of the class. She says it is clear that the students are helping each other. Ida McKinley-Rabbat, whose goal is to learn to communicate better, joins in, explaining how her classmates help her out during class if she has any problems. They exchange phone numbers and even enjoy having potlucks together.

The ground floor of this Learning Connection center also houses a large computer lab and classrooms. In one of these is Ida Barnack, who volunteers to teach beginning ESL (English-as-a-second language). She retired from her state job after twenty five years and she's now been working with the Learning Center since 1998. She is in the middle of a session with two students, a married couple from South Korea, Yoo Soon and Hyun Jou. Yoo Soon focuses intently on a workbook next to Barnack, while Hyun listens to headphones and studies his own book at a table behind them. The Jous have been in Juneau for a year and a half. Hyun was a pastor in Korea and pastored at the Korean church here for six months when he first arrived in Juneau (he's been in the US for 11 years). The Jous are anxiously waiting for the results of their recent application for naturalization.

Deeply involved at a community level, the Learning Center is providing opportunities for Southeast Alaskans to learn, teach, and shape their own future. For instance, the 225 adults who have chosen to complete their GED's in the past year are the result of a substantial impact by the Learning Center in their communities. There is space to serve even more students, and opportunities for more volunteers and staff; discover the Learning Center on your own.