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#OTGYpsi: WCC's 'Adult Transitions' makes adult education accessible and affordable for Washtenaw County residents


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Free ESL program grows rapidly after launch in Ypsi Township

Adult Transitions


Josh Hakala: You are listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community, and we bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, we are going to be talking about "Adult Transitions," an adult education service that provides everything from GED preparation to English as a second language education and much more. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on Adult Transitions and what they've been doing over the last quarter century in Washtenaw County and then what they're doing today. Rylee, thanks so much for being with us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Josh Hakala: And joining us over the phone is Bonnie Truhn. She is the program director with Adult Transitions at Washtenaw Community College. Thanks so much for joining us.

Bonnie Truhn: Thank you, Josh. I'm glad to be here today.

Josh Hakala: Well, Rylee, Sarah Rigg wrote this story and tell us why Adult Transitions got your attention.

Rylee Barnsdale: Well, Adult Transitions has, like you said, a very extensive history here in Washtenaw County. The program has been around for just over 25 years, serving the community by providing adult learners with all of the same educational opportunities and services as traditional students. And what really made their work exciting for Sarah and us at Concentrate was that the program is continuing its expansion into and presence in the immediate Ypsi community, which actually started back in 2018.

Josh Hakala: So, the program got started about 25 years ago, as you said, in Ypsilanti Township's West Willow neighborhood. Can you tell us about how they got started and how things are going now?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, the program got started, like you said, in the West Willow neighborhood. Now, it actually takes place at WCC's main campus location and the Ypsilanti Township Community Center, aiding in English as a second language education, as well as GED skill building. And those are all things that you can still find at Adult Transitions. And, you know, it isn't easy or cheap to continue your education in general, but especially if English isn't your first language or you don't have a high school degree. And Adult Transitions is trying to make education more accessible and help adult learners live the successful lives they want to live by offering these services at free or reduced rate.

Josh Hakala: Well, Bonnie, you have been working in adult education for a long time. How did you get involved with Adult Transitions? And tell us about your role there.

Bonnie Truhn: So, Josh, I've actually been serving Washtenaw County for the past 36 years as an adult educator. I started in Willow Run Community Schools teaching a couple nights a week when my kids were really little. And then, as the years went on, I was given an opportunity to take on a full-time position at Ford Motor Company through Willow Run Community Schools. And as time progressed, we offered everything from ESL to master's degrees at the Rawsonville plant in Ypsilanti for over 18 years. And then, unfortunately, when the auto industry went bust back in 2016, that learning center on site closed down. But through my interactions with WCC, my previous boss here on campus hired me for a position to work with her as a community outreach coordinator. And after working with her here on campus for a year, she retired. And she suggested that I take on her role as the director of the program. So, I've been here at WCC. It's been since 2010, so 13 years.

Josh Hakala: So, the program started out as a way for students to upskill and work on their GED. And that sounds like there's so much more to it, especially as time went on, the more needs that people had. How did this organization expand to try to meet those needs?

Bonnie Truhn: Yeah, our previous college president, Dr. Larry Whitworth, he actually had been an adult educator in Pennsylvania. And when he came to WCC, he recognized the need and the value of bringing adult education to a community college campus. This was sort of an anomaly at that point in time because all K-through-12 institutions in the county and really around the state offered adult education at that point in time. And over the course of the year, they scaled back funding for adult education back in 2000. And a lot of the K through 12 institutions that were offering adult education couldn't afford to do it, and they couldn't provide the oversight for it anymore. So, as time went on, those programs were closed. And, fortunately, our WCC board and our current college president, Dr. Rose Bellanca, continue to see the vision and the importance of offering adult education here in the county. And so, we've been able to continue to provide our services here on campus and continue to expand. Then, in 2016, the state went to a new funding model and delivery of programs model. And, at that point in time, we were approached here at WCC to expand services and partner with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, in particular, Holly Hablin, who is the executive director of Meridian School Partnerships. She reached out to our program and asked us if we would take on the financial responsibility and services, in particular for Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, where programs had closed. And so, that's when we were able to expand our programs even further into the county and take those programs offsite. As we talked about before, we started in West Willow. Now we've done sort of a full circle, and we're offering programming at the Ypsilanti Township Community Center.

Josh Hakala: You're listening to On the Ground Ypsi under WEMU, I'm joined by Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale and Bonnie Truhn, the program director for Adult Transitions at Washtenaw Community College. And I want to talk about the English as a second language program as well, because that's obviously a big part of what you do. But tell me a little bit about the other ways that you are helping adults, as the name would suggest, to transition in their careers or to meet their educational goals.

Bonnie Truhn: So, the specific goals of adult education programs in Michigan may vary, depending on the needs of the community and the resources available. But the majority of the programs are designed to be flexible and responsive to the diverse needs of adult learners. And, really, the overarching goal is to empower the individuals to achieve their education and career goals. And so, we are funded generally through the school funds that we have here at WCC, which comes through the community. We work under the state with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds. And then, the funds that I mentioned a little bit earlier, those that come through the WISD, those are actually 107 school aid funds. So, we use a braided funding stream to provide programming for students. So, specifically, we're looking to help students, as we had mentioned earlier, improve their basic skills or improve their English language proficiency. We're helping them earn their high school diplomas or prepare for the GED and earn their GED, depending on which district or educational entity you're talking about at WCC. We specifically look at English as a second language and GEDs. We also prefer prepare them for workforce or career and technical education, college and career readiness, digital literacy, civic engagement and all the life skills, like financial literacy and, even now, more mental health strategies to work through each day. So, that's just some of the resources and the services that we offer through our programs.

Josh Hakala: So, one of the features of the English as a second language program, which is run out of Ypsilanti Township's community center, is that it removes a key barrier for a lot of people: the cost. While the ESL course is not credential, that's free to the public. Can you tell us a little bit about how many people are taking advantage of that program? And then, I understand there's a pretty significant demand.

Bonnie Truhn: Yes. So, currently this fall semester, we have 146 students enrolled in our program, the one at the township that you just mentioned. Overall, in the state, we're serving a little over 8000 students, but the demand is much more than that. There's currently about 250,000 people in the state that do not speak English well or need our services. You know, we're serving about two and a half percent of the current population that really needs the services. So, in moving out into the community is a way that we can help connect the students' access in areas that may be more helpful for them.

Josh Hakala: So, the challenge that you have is that everyone who comes to you seeking help has a different story, a different situation. You have to kind of meet them where they are and try to figure out what they need and how to accomplish that. How are you able to do that?

Bonnie Truhn: Absolutely. When we're focused on the ESL students, we're really looking at engaging them first and foremost in making them feel comfortable in their environment that we're offering services and what we do. When students come to us, we assess their skills, and then, we create an individual plan for every single student. The program that we offer at the Township Center is really a community-based program where we're trying to help students feel more integrated into the community through that engagement. We're trying to help them with employment opportunities, advance their educational levels through either tutoring or also small class environments, we use computer-aided instruction, so we really try to use as many tools and resources to address the individual needs of the student, make them feel comfortable and confident in being part of this community and hopefully moving them forward to the goals that they want to achieve. We do that also in our GED or our Pathway program here at the college as well for those who are seeking an alternative high school credential.

Josh Hakala: Can you talk a little bit about the financial aspect of Adult Transitions, like where the funding comes from and how much do you feel that elected officials may be at the state and national level value the work that you do?

Bonnie Truhn: Well, one thing that I'd like to to share with you is that just this year in the state budget, with bipartisan support, we are celebrating a significant investment in adult education. So, I had mentioned the funding--the 107 School Aid Act--earlier. State legislators have given us an additional $10 million in funding for adult education in that funding stream. They also have awarded an additional $15 million in a new special innovation grant this year. That one is called 107-A, so they're looking for us, as in adult education, to develop or pilot some projects to unfold and increase adult education enrollment, help with transitions to employment or post-secondary opportunities. And so, that's an additional $25 million right there. And then, there's a one-time investment in the creation of an adult literacy opportunity fund, too. And what we're trying to accomplish with that is to really create a pipeline to serve low-level learners and get them the soft skills they need to then move forward with our WELA funding and programs and become employed eligible. This is a really significant year for that. We have suffered really shortcomings in funding since 2000 when adult education funding was cut significantly. So, we've really worked hard in contacting and working with legislators, so that they better understand what we are doing in adult education. And, this year, they really responded. We're super excited about this new opportunity, and some of those people that I had mentioned earlier that need to be served, our goal is to now increase the services across Michigan, ensure some equity in the delivery of the services, ensure that we're providing high-quality education and best practices and really trying to ramp up that career pathway to high-wage careers and expand access to what we call an adult education, integrated education and training programs, where students are learning their skills, their basic skills, but they may be earning a credential at the same time. And the last priority that we have is really trying to help adult education students earn post-secondary credentials. So, that's the focus for these new funding streams that have most recently come to us.

Josh Hakala: So, if people want to get involved with the program or maybe they're interested in some of the services, how do they go about doing that?

Bonnie Truhn: Well, they certainly can contact our program at WCC, and that phone number for that is 734-677-5006. We also have a website, easily Googled, and that's how most people find us these days. And we're more than happy to direct them to their appropriate program once they make that initial call or contact us through our portal. Those are all the different opportunities and ways that students can find us and get more information.

Josh Hakala: Bonnie Truhn, the program director for Adult Transitions, and, as always, Rylee Barnsdale from Concentrate Media. Thanks to both of you for joining us today on On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thank you, Josh!

Josh Hakala: If you would like to listen to past episodes of On the Ground Ypsi or would like to listen to an extended version of today's interview, you can find it on our website at WEMU dot org. This is On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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