Union City Adult Learning Center Program Improvement Process

The Union City, NJ Board of Education has had an adult education program since 1970. The program began as a small part time evening program with a basic curriculum that taught skills with worksheets, repetition, and isolated skill sets. The program has grown over 35 years into a full time program focused on teaching ESL, CIVICS and GED by incorporating life skills into the students’ curriculum.

The Union City Adult Learning Center was able to enhance its program after our initial EFF/UPS Program Improvement Initiative meeting at the University of Tennessee back in January 2005 by creating an advisory board. This advisory board was made up of a team leader, Ms. Esmeralda Doreste-Roman, a principal of Adult Education Mr. Oscar Cordero, 8 Teachers: Mr. Rafael Alfonso, Mr. Stanley Miranda, Mr. Eleno Cadalzo, Mr. James Lagomarsino, Mr. Barnett Schulman, Ms. Martha Avitable, Ms. Blanca Milan and Ms. Nancy Angeles, 3 support staff members: Ms. Morayma Moreda, Mr. Christian Lopez and Ms. Jeanette Lisboa, 1 student representative Ms. Gabriella Ruiz, the Union City WIB director Mr. Toni Corsi, and the Union City Career Academy Director Mr. Richard Quagliarello. We began our program improvement process by having several staff meetings in which the Framework for the EFF standards was discussed extensively. The staff became familiar with the EFF standards for Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning.  All advisory board members as well as full / part time staff members received the appropriate materials during each phase of the improvement process and many brainstorming sessions followed.

As the team leader and administrator of the Adult Learning Center, I knew I needed to have teachers on the advisory board in order for them to buy into any changes that would be implemented within our program. The first change that was implemented that came from one of our meetings was to change the teachers’ schedules so that they would have a common prep period every Friday to meet and share their ideas on how to infuse the EFF standards into their everyday lesson plans. Inviting the principal of Adult Education Mr. Cordero to our advisory board meetings assisted in allowing this change to happen. The teachers’ plans after our meetings and during common planning periods included introducing the students to the EFF skills content wheel and explaining that the mission of the Union City Adult Learning Center is that every student attain their goals.

Then the aim of the program shifted. Teachers began using research and consensus building, with the students having a stake with their educational plans and giving input to their student representative Ms. Gabriella Ruiz to ensure that their needs were being met. Student input became the major focus of how lessons were implemented to be effective in carrying out activities central to their roles as parents and family members, citizens and community members, and workers. Teachers began to assist students to identify the content knowledge they already know and then build upon that knowledge to go beyond that and apply it in a meaningful context.

There were many more changes implemented at the Union City Adult Learning Center due to the examination of our program during phase 2 of the program improvement process. First, we decided that we needed to develop a flyer, of which Mr. Miranda & Mr. Lopez took charge. We also decided that Mr. Lopez & Mr. Alfonso would develop a website to have community outreach and have more recruitment. Next, we felt that our 30 year old curriculum needed to be revised completely. All teachers received input from the students as to topics they felt were important, and shared this information during common planning periods. The new curriculum for Civics was written by Ms. Martha Avitable using the EFF standards, and the new ESL curriculum was written by Mr. Alfonso. The curricula were then evaluated by Ms. Doreste & Mr. Miranda and then typed and assembled by Ms. Morayma Moreda, Ms. Jeanette Lisboa and Mrs. Gabriella Ruiz.

Then, we decided that we needed to provide job placement services, health services and post secondary education for our students at the Union City Adult Learning Center. In addition, we obtained employment assessment, training and placement with our advisory board partner Mr. Corsi from the Hudson County Workforce Investment Board. This partnership allowed students to receive computer literacy; career awareness, job assessment, planning and counseling; job training and family literacy services. Mr. Corsi worked closely with the Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services, which now assists our program in providing child care; medical, substance abuse, mental health as well as an array of social services such as free monthly medical exams for all our students from the North Hudson Community Action Corporation. The final partner in this effort included the UCBOE Career Academy Director Mr. Quagliarello; the Academy now provides free post secondary education for all students that we refer forconstruction trades, fashion design, CISCO, Web design, Day Care Provider Education and Entrepreneurship Classes.

Finally, we decided to change our intake/ orientation forms to be aligned with students’ goals; education plans inside students’ folders now must be aligned with the new curricula for assessment. For this to work, there needed to be continued professional development.

These proposed changes were necessary to help immigrants and other limited English proficient populations acquire the skills and knowledge to become active and informed parents, workers, and community members in Union City.  The services offered will assist adults to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment, self-sufficiency, and career advancement; to acquire the educational skills necessary to become full partners in the educational development of their children; and to complete a secondary school education. The ABE/GED &ESL program will develop the essential English Communication, Employability, and Occupational Skills required by the target population to successfully gain and retain employment.

The EFF/UPS project allowed the Union City Adult Learning Center to put in place a volunteer advisory board of staff and students; review and revise its Curriculum with EFF standards; develop a multi-phased marketing strategy; and put in place a long-term plan for financial and programmatic sustainability.  Through a project website, face-to-face meetings, on-site technical assistance and phone conferences we were able to document our program improvement processes and the results of working together using the EFF model.

EFF supported the effective changes to develop within our program by giving us an EFF Program Improvement Handbook. It allowed us to change our program step by step in which now life skills instruction, student voice, and integration of technology are cornerstones of the Union City Adult Learning Center instructional system. Students learn about topics such as health, employment, banking, child's school and transportation to determine the context through which they will develop their speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills.

While students are learning language skills, they are also learning to access, evaluate, and use information and resources in a variety of life skills contexts and in a variety of ways, including computers and using the Internet. Assessing the needs, interests, and goals of learners is an integral part of the Adult Learning Center Curriculum and is important in achieving the program's goal of creating "learner-centered" classrooms. Each instructional level contains more life skills units than could reasonably be covered during one cycle of instruction. Through needs assessment activities, teachers in conjunction with the students select which units will be covered.  In other words, students decide the contexts through which they wish to learn language skills. Needs assessment is a component of the "English No Problem", which is aligned with our EFF Standards. Needs assessment is also a component within each life skills unit.

In summary, The Union City Adult Learning Center over the course of the 2004-2005 school years received the support it needed to build the leadership and organizational capacities to achieve measurable results for its customers which include students, funders and policymakers. In addition, the Center’s understanding of how an intensive EFF-based program improvement process works has given us the tools and processes of continuous program improvement and it has been very effective. To support this strategy, we carried out the following activities:

  • Participating in 8-10 sessions of team study, data gathering, analysis and planning, through e- meetings, a project website, and site visits from Ms Peggy McGuire, M.A., Senior Research Associate and Equipped for the Future National Consultant
  •  Preparing a program improvement story and other local program materials for publication on the national LINCs Program Leadership and Program Improvement website.
  • Having all students receive an EFF power point introduction in the computer lab as part of their orientation once they begin our program.
  • Working with students and staff to create a new consolidated educational plan that includes math, language arts and employability skills aligned with the EFF standards
  • Creating a new ESL/CIVICS curriculum aligned with the EFF standards
  • Creating a video with student testimonials in relation to EFF and how the Union City Adult Learning Center has improved their lives.

The Union City Adult Learning Center used the EFF Program Quality Model, the EFF Program Improvement Handbook and related program improvement processes and materials to document and achieve the following:

  1. Provided specialized training (by the team leader) in facilitating a board-staff program improvement process by having various meetings with students, staff members and other community partner organizations.
  2. Implemented staff development using the EFF model and changed the antiquated curriculum to reflect EFF standards.
  3. Changed the teachers schedules so they have a common planning period to address student needs better and share their ideas with our program improvement process.
  4. Expanded the Center’s services through student counseling and referring students to local partner agencies such as the WIB, Union City Career Academy, North Hudson Community Action Corp., Brian P. Stack Association, local faith based associations and businesses.
  5. Created an expanded set of materials and resources that will enhance the ability of community-based literacy agencies to use the Union City Adult learning Center’s services.
  6. Developed a website for Union City Adult Learning Center and flyers to reach out to the community
  7. Documented a rise in the number of students that have obtained their citizenship as well as moved up in levels by taking the BEST test since we participated in the program improvement process.

Throughout the program improvement process there were many challenges that I encountered as the program administrator in order to achieve all the goals listed above. First, the original team leader Mr. Stanley Miranda felt he could not assume the role because he did not have the authority with the teachers to implement changes, so I took on the responsibility. Next, there were individuals that had very busy schedules like Mr. Corsi and Mr. Quagliarello and could not make the monthly meetings, so I had to go to them. Then, in order to accomplish all our goals I had to relinquish control as the administrator and delegate tasks to the various team members. Finally, I had to win over the Union City Board of Education to support our EFF professional development workshops by convincing them that educated parents produce educated students in our elementary and high schools. These challenges are what make program improvement difficult. The challenge that had the largest impact for the Union City Adult Learning Center was that I learned, if you give other members of your organization power to make changes, great things happen!

As the administrator of the Union City Adult Learning Center I am very grateful that we had the opportunity to participate in this program improvement process. Our organization has become a link to the community to tap into many resources. I also feel that I have empowered my staff to make decisions that have had positive impacts for the students in our program. We have had some students volunteer their testimonials on video since the implementation of the program improvement. In addition, I have become a member of NJALL, the New Jersey Association for Lifelong Learning, and have input from other administrators in the field. I am also a member of their staff development committee in which I will continue to use the EFF framework to promote positive changes in adult education.

In conclusion, at the Union City Adult Learning Center we would like to continue to expand on our EFF curriculum as well as professional development. If additional funding is obtained I would like to implement the EFF standards into our Evening Adult High School Program as a requirement of the career education classes. The EFF program improvement plan can provide specific strategies and resources to provide bridges and supports for successful literacy students to make smoother transitions from adult high school completion and GED programs to community colleges and other post-secondary programs.

Editor’s Note:  For more information on the Union City Adult Learning Center, go to their web site at:  http://alc.union-city-nj.org/




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