ELLSWORTH — The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench into how students of all ages access education, including adults. For Ellsworth Adult Education Director Ann Sargent and her staff, this has been an opportunity to use videoconferencing systems to make learning more accessible for students striving to obtain their high school diploma or equivalent, gain workforce training credentials and enroll in personal enrichment classes.
After completing the 2019-20 school year online, Ellsworth Adult Education is back to offering in-person instruction for academic programs, as well as the option to learn online and via Zoom videoconferencing. Enrichment classes are currently happening exclusively via Zoom.
“We are able to tailor everything to meet the individual needs of students,” said Sargent. She explained that new students coming to the program for academic or workforce training needs will meet with an adult education staff member to complete formal assessments and create a learning plan designed to their specific needs, such as students’ home situations, internet access and learning styles.
With the option to videoconference into classes happening on site, students can work from home when necessary. Certain classes, such as biology and chemistry, are happening exclusively online. For those looking for an especially relevant workforce training program, Ellsworth Adult Education is offering a pilot program for students interested in information technology services.
For students learning on site (happening at Ellsworth Adult Education’s new location inside the Mill Mall), safety is a priority, Sargent said. Masks are required for in-person instruction and staff have access to tools that make socially distant learning possible, including a “document projector” that allows teachers to view students’ work on a tablet and write feedback.
Sargent said many students have decided not to return to in-person instruction due to fear of the coronavirus and the challenge of having children at home. However, the students who are participating in-person “don’t seem nervous.”
While Sargent said that academic, college prep and workforce training programs have been the focus this fall, personal enrichment classes are still being offered this term. Enrichment classes will be exclusively offered via Zoom, except for the hunter safety course, which will continue to be held at the Ellsworth VFW due to its ability to accommodate social distancing.
Sargent says enrichment classes for the fall term are “COVID-related” with courses focused on stress reduction, exercise and cooking. “We’re hoping to have a robust collection of enrichment classes in the springtime,” she said.
To help enrichment students navigate the world of videoconferencing, Sargent will call registrants ahead of the class start date to get a sense of their comfortability with Zoom. If students need assistance, Sargent will walk them through the process of downloading and learning the software and offer practice sessions before the start of class. “That’s how so many people are connecting now,” she said of videoconferencing, noting the importance of people being able to communicate during the pandemic.
Ellsworth Adult Education made changes beginning in March, when in-person classes were put on hold statewide.
“We were able to pivot quickly to online because our teachers were technologically savvy,” said Sargent. Her team continued working remotely with students working toward the HiSET, the high school equivalency test, and other workforce credentials and even put together a June graduation ceremony.
“We had actually as many graduates last year as we do any year,” said Sargent, noting they celebrated 22 graduates.
“We had an outdoor ceremony, and it was really fun,” Sargent said, sharing that her team met with graduates individually in 20-minute blocks. Sargent and her staff summarized and celebrated each graduate’s accomplishments, while the remaining graduates waited in their cars for their turn. The coronavirus-inspired ceremony “was actually much more personal,” said Sargent, adding that families had the opportunity to share in the moment and take photos.
“It took six hours. It was kind of a long day, but it was great,” she said.
While COVID-19 has forced the adult education team to adapt to a new normal, Sargent is hopeful.
“This has been a very tragic chapter in our world, but one of the silver linings for our program, is that online learning is a very accessible way for many adult learners to learn,” Sargent said, noting that the program will most likely offer an online model and in-person model indefinitely.
“We were building the plane while we were flying it,” Sargent says of the school shake-up this spring. Now, with a few months of COVID-19-influenced learning under her belt, Sargent is continuing to work on building an interactive website and creative ways to offer classes.
For students looking to get involved with Ellsworth Adult Education, call 664-711, email [email protected] or text 613-6460.