GREAT BARRINGTON -- After the closing of the South Berkshire Educational Collaborative last summer, southern Berkshire County residents had no comprehensive adult basic education program to turn to for help and guidance in the fall.
Through a Berkshire Community College effort of securing a new state grant, adults in the region will have two new venues where they can take English language classes, learn new workforce skills and/or earn a GED, beginning this spring.
In addition, the Literacy Network of South Berkshire is recruiting students for a new financial literacy program for adults beginning this month.
Bill Mulholland, dean of lifelong learning and workforce development, told The Eagle that the college applied for and received a one-year $192,423 grant from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in November to provide courses for adult basic education and English language learners.
The program is eligible to be funded on a five-year renewable cycle.
"It’s going to cover those two areas and have a workforce preparation component," said Mulholland.
He said BCC is "delighted" to be able to offer new day and evening classes at the college’s South County Center and at Monument Valley Regional Middle School in Great Barrington.
Mulholland said that in the interim period back in the fall, the South County campus rolled out a new program called "Conversation Circles."
It gives students a weekly opportunity to practice speaking English in an informal setting. The dean said the program will continue in the spring, among the other new opportunities for adult learners.
BCC is currently reviewing applications for what it’s calling a "half-time" position as program director for South Berkshire Community Adult Learning. The position carries a posted grant-funded salary of $26,250 a year with benefits and is scheduled to begin this month.
Mulholland said the college is also now in the process hiring new instructors and staff for the program.
Prospective students are being asked to register now. An assessment period will take place in mid-February, with courses set to begin in March.
The new South County adult education program will offer beginning, intermediate and advance-level English as a second language courses as well as classes to prepare students to take a GED certification exam.
Each program is open to those age 16 and up, and will run for 32 consecutive weeks. Students who may have high school credentials but need to work on skills in subjects like reading, writing, English language or math are eligible to take classes.
Mulholland said the college is looking to serve about 40 students during the program’s initial roll out.
He said the programming will be developed and marketed in partnership with organizations like the Berkshire Immigrant Center, Comm-unity Health Programs (CHP), Literacy Network of South Berkshire, and the Adult Lea-rning Center in Pittsfield.
"I’m encouraged by the fact there will be more opportunities for adult learners in South County," said Laura Quall-iotine, executive director of Literacy Network of South Berkshire, also known as LitNet. The agency provides students with free one-on-one tutoring services to adults in reading, GED preparation, English for speakers of other languages and U.S. citizenship preparation.
Qualliotine said that when the South Berkshire Edu-cational Collaborative closed, LitNet saw an increase in enrollment of former collaborative students seeking services during the fall. Although students were welcomed to attend classes at the Adult Learning Center in Pittsfield, she said several of them either declined or attended and then dropped out, due to transportation challenges -- a huge factor for students, she said.
Both Qualliotine and Bill Mulholland at BCC said that adult and English learner programs are beginning to become more aligned with national goals of grooming students to be college and career ready.
"Today’s workforce requires education levels past secondary. For adult learners, [the new program] is a great start," Mulholland said.
It is part of the reason why Qualliotine said LitNet is currently writing a new financial literacy curriculum designed for "new Americans," people who have been living in the U.S. for five years or less. Tutors for this and its other programs are also being sought.
The program will help people learn about opening and managing bank accounts, applying for and using credit, financial goal-setting and more. "We’re expanding on the idea of what it means to be literate," said Qualliotine.
"As agencies in this field, we need to think about how to help people become more employable and reach their own potential. We have to work in a different way to figure out how to help people meet their needs," she said.