The name Adult Learning Center seems to make clear the mission of the over 40 year old nonprofit organization located in Nashua. But as attendees of last week’s Breakfast with our Best event learned, there is a lot more happening at the ALC than just adult learning. As guests walked into the gymnasium at the Adult Learning Center they expected a typical breakfast fundraiser. Soon after they grabbed a coffee and pastry, they realized there would not be anything typical about what they would hear at the second annual event. All would leave with a clear understanding of the broad scope of the ALC’s mission and how special both the staff who work to fulfill that mission and the clients who benefit from it truly are.
After a brief welcome from Board President Rachel Guill of BAE Systems and emcee of the event Carol Kreick, a longtime supporter of the ALC, attendees were introduced to representatives of Clearway High School, an alternative high school program for teenagers who need a specialized setting to successfully earn a high school diploma or equivalency diploma (HiSET, formerly GED). Special Education Coordinator Aeron Wrobel spoke passionately about why Clearway is such an important offering to Nashua area students. However, it wasn’t until student Hannah Rubin spoke that the audience fully understood Clearway’s impact. “Due to severe anxiety, I could not function in a large high school setting,” Hannah said. “But at Clearway I feel supported and valued and now I am graduating with a diploma and plan to go to college next year.” After she spoke, the hug she shared with her mother punctuated the enormity of the moment. Not only is her daughter graduating, she gained the confidence to deliver a poised, personal speech in front of more than 100 strangers, and she thanked Clearway for helping her reach those goals.
Hannah’s praise of her school and teachers was echoed by Adult Education student Salimatou Bah who has attended both basic education classes as well as the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the ALC. Bah came to the United States from Guinea. In Guinea, she never had a chance to go to school. With the support of her husband, she found the ALC when they arrived in Nashua and has been a student ever since. She noted, “Once I landed in New Hampshire I enrolled in the Adult Learning Center and met wonderful people here. They offered me the education I had always hoped for.” Her English has improved and she plans to start classes to earn her HiSET certificate and continue to college.
Another ALC student story highlighted the importance of the relationships which are formed at the ALC. Ellen Arouchon, a tutor in the Adult Learner Services program, introduced the audience to Salwa Sayegh. Salwa came to the United States after the situation in her home country of Syria became increasingly unsettled. Unlike Salimatou, Salwa had been given an educational opportunity at home and was an engineer, but when she came to the United States she learned she would need to start over. She found the ALC and was paired with Arouchon for help with her classes. Arouchon noted, “I could tell right off Salwa was capable of doing the schoolwork. What she needed was someone to talk to.” Three years later the two are still talking, and sharing recipes and holidays together. Salwa called Arounchon her “second mother” and the bond between the two was evident through the tears they both shed in sharing their story.
Children are a big part of the Adult Learning Center story and the attendees of the breakfast were treated to a demonstration of some of the fun the ALC’s smallest clients enjoy on a regular basis. The ALC offers child care to children ages 6 weeks through kindergarten in their Early Childhood Adventures Program. Program director Jane Marquis and her staff demonstrated some techniques they use to manage Big Body Play, showing how they can turn wrestling, tackling and weapon play, all which is developmentally occurring in the preschool years, into safe, active play. The teachers donned super hero capes that they use with their students when they ask them to be a super-friend, super-helper or super-listener instead of more violently mimicking their favorite super heroes.
Christine Bunis, the ALC’s Adventure Camp Director, outlined the amazing summer camp opportunity offered by the ALC. Adventure Camp runs all summer long and gives kids the chance to play sports, swim, attend field trips and participate in learning workshops. The photos of the fun had everyone in the room reminiscing about their summer camp experiences and recognizing the importance of having a safe, fun place to spend the summer.
The highlight of the event may well have been the presentation by Jeremy Griffus, Enrichment Coordinator for the After School Adventures program. Griffus has developed Xploration, a learning enrichment program based on STEM education. Griffus travels to local elementary schools conducting hands on workshops with students. The audience was treated to an amazing laser demonstration which is one part of his program of over twenty different workshops offered to students after school. The laser workshop is available to students due to a generous grant from BAE Systems. The lights dimmed, the music blared and the audience was treated to an amazing display and description of light reflection and refraction. To those in attendance it just looked cool. As the audience reluctantly began to leave the event one attendee commented how he “had no idea the ALC operated on such a broad scale. I thought they just did ESL,” he continued. This was music to Executive Director Carol Baldwin’s ears. “After having Breakfast with our Best: our best staff, students and programs, we hope everyone can see what a special and important place the Adult Learning Center is for the Nashua community.”