For Jesse Lambert, going back to college has been a long time coming. The 55-year-old metal worker has survived one plant layoff, raised two children and endured a lifetime of changing technology in the metal casting business.
Nearing retirement age, Lambert decided to return to school, learn some new skills and prepare for small-business ownership. Then he hit a road bump.
Like many other returning students, Lambert lacked some of the basic skills necessary to succeed in college. Over the last quarter, Lambert said he has made "tremendous" strides in the Adult Basic Education class. Where he used to stumble at reading, he now succeeds and is on his way to attaining his goals.
Along with Lambert, a small class of 10 students gathered for their last day of class on Nov. 30 to evaluate their progress. The students are a mix of old and young; Black, Brown and White; men and women. Some students are attending the class in order to go on to GED or continuing education classes, others are taking the class to gain minimum reading proficiency so they can better understand the newspaper, voting pamphlets or even the state driver's license test.
The class also offers beginning education in geography, simple math, life skills (understanding a lease, tax completion, etc.) and computer skills.
Class instructor, Lisa Rosenthal, began teaching the course two years ago — a switch from her years teaching high school and developmental education courses at the college.
The Adult Education Course is available at a minimal cost ($45 for 10 weeks) and is free for those who qualify (those on food stamps, disabled worker, YES program or Oregon Health Plan).
Rosenthal, who is upbeat and jovial with the students, administers an oral spelling test to her class.
After the test, she grades the papers; some in the class have scored As and while others have scored Ds. Tackling adult illiteracy is often a difficult and complicated problem to solve, she said.
Judy Voth, department chair for Adult Basic Education, said PCC Cascade is one of the only places in the area where adults can receive instruction in beginning reading and other basics.
Lambert said he is shooting for computer training, Spanish language classes and business classes. He plans to make learning a habit for the rest of his life while balancing a career as a robot operator at Precision Castparts.
"At one point I was thinking I was too old," he said. But after seeing a television special about a disabled man succeeding, he said he gained enough inspiration to return to school.
Living with a supportive wife and with two grown children out of the house, Lambert said returning to school was still difficult, although he finds time to study in every open minute — during his lunch breaks, or when traffic on the freeway grinds to a halt.
"I keep pushing to do it," he said.
The Hard Truth
Not concealing the difficulty in her job, Rosenthal said teaching the class — with student skill levels that range from first to fifth grade – can be much more difficult than teaching high school. But what keeps Rosenthal coming back are the success stories.
"I learned how to read better and spell words," said one student.
"I'm reading things I couldn't read. It's easier to read words I couldn't understand," said another.
Measuring success can be difficult, but the students do take standardized tests. Voth said that students in the upper class (grade levels six to college level) receive tuition waivers for one quarter if they complete 50 hours of ABE work and GED requirement. Last term, Voth said about five out of 12 took advantage of the fee waiver. Many times, outside influences, including family and career situations, can affect when and if students return to campus.
"Everybody has a life situation," Rosenthal said.
Many times, these factors — ranging from child care, transportation, employment, even homelessness – can determine the time it takes for some of these students to complete their goals. Rosenthal said the small class size, as well as the volunteer tutoring programs, help provide specialized help. Dividing the class into groups also helps her focus different curriculums on different skill levels.
"I feel limited in what I can do. I can only address literacy," she said.
Bessie Chandler, an older woman in the beginner program, said she didn't know if she would return next quarter, but added that the class helped her better understand passages in the Bible and had to pay her own bills.
Getting people to sign up for the classes can also be difficult. Voth said many illiterate adults may fear facing their problems, be overwhelmed by the college campus and atmosphere or may simply lack the resources or knowledge to sign up/attend the program. While a standardized test is required before attending classes, those who cannot read can quietly let the test supervisor know.
"These people are marginalized," Voth said. "The whole idea of coming here is overwhelming."
To help overcome some of those fears, volunteer literacy tutors are available for both students and nonstudents. Sherri Prodani, tutor coordinator, said many people benefit from tutors when they don't succeed in class. To become a tutor or find a tutor call 503-978-5373.
The college offers both day and night Adult Basic Education courses, as well as GED preparation courses. Courses are held from 9 a.m. to noon or from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Go to www.pcc.edu/prepare/basic for more information, or call 503-788-6255.