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Adult Learning Academy Helps Students Pass the Test

April 15, 2014

Adult Learning Academy  
Nicole Johnson, seated, received plenty of support to complete a 16-week math course in a month through STLCC’s Adult Learning Academy. Support came from, standing, left to right, Lisa Whetstine, adjunct faculty; Debbie Char, assistant professor of mathematics; and Andrea Bauers and Nicole McMeans, educational assistants.

Enthusiastic cheers and applause resounded in the Adult Learning Academy (ALA) when Nicole Johnson passed a 16-week developmental math course in only a month’s time.

Working toward a certificate in health information technology, Johnson took part in a new self-paced math class that is designed specifically for St. Louis Community College students in the MoHealthWINS grant program.

“I had some really good instructors,” she said. “They gave me extra help.”

Johnson, a full-time student, also attends STLCC-Florissant Valley. She has 20 years’ experience as a certified nurse’s aide.

Results, such as Johnson’s, indicate initial success – of 230 students who have started pre-algebra, 140 have finished so far.

“You don’t fail the Adult Learning Academy unless you quit coming,” said Debbie Char, assistant professor of mathematics.

Char said the ALA provides effective teaching and learning techniques, abundant help and sincere motivation. Students receive one-on-one mentoring in both pre-algebra and elementary algebra.

Established 14 months ago to help students succeed in math and literacy advance in the healthcare programs available through MoHealthWINS, the academy operates under a U.S. Department of Labor grant that serves unemployed, underemployed and low-skilled individuals who want to enter this field.

A single father raising five children passed pre-algebra in nine months, and previously had earned his GED through the academy, while two other students passed it in less than two weeks. They were among five celebrations in one day.

Located in a spacious computer lab at the Forest Park campus, ALA is staffed by faculty and educational assistants who are available 9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays.
 
“It’s totally at their own pace – the 16-week course can be finished in a week or nine months,” Char said. “I like to compare it to the tortoise and the hare fable – everyone has tortoise and hare moments, and they’re not always at the same time. They tell us when they’re ready. If they fail the test, we go over it, review to see what we need to do, and they take it again when they’re ready. We do whatever it takes to help.”

This innovative program is influenced by the Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organization with the goal of changing education by providing free lessons and website resources to anyone. Students can use its adaptive assessment environment. Each problem is randomly generated, so they never run out of practice material, and they can be broken down, step-by-step. Short video clips, from 2 to 10 minutes, help with basic math, calculus and other disciplines.

“It breaks things down to people’s level, but does not talk down to them. It’s really changed how education is done,” Char said.

The students are first pre-tested to determine their needs. There are group workshops, helpful videos, worksheets, PowerPoint flashcards and online practice, Char said. Everything is loaded onto Blackboard or available through Khan’s website.

The program also is geared toward the healthcare field.

“All the word problems are about healthcare applications,” Char said. “This way, they never have to say, ‘Why do I have to learn this stuff?’”
 
For instance, healthcare professionals use military time, so they reference the 24-hour clock instead.

“We’re having tremendous success. The students love it. They work so hard. They actually get to see where they’re going,” Char said.

Students must score at least 75 percent to move on to the next unit, and there are eight units in all. When they’ve succeeded, that’s when the celebration commences.

“Everyone hoots and hollers. It’s wonderful.” Char said.