In this article, English Learning Center co-director, Jenne Nelson, highlights an exciting new initiative to help us better serve elder students at our school. Elder literacy classes officially launched in late November!
Education for Lifelong Learners
In late August, the English Learning Center team received the happy news that we (along with 69 other organizations across Minnesota) were awarded a major state grant to fund classes specifically to work with elderly learners as they strengthen their independence and age with dignity at home.
During our first official team meeting about this grant, called Live Well at Home, one of our staff teachers asked me what prompted us to apply in the first place. It was a great question for reflection. We’ve always been proud of the age diversity at the ELC and view our multigenerational classrooms as one of our program’s assets.
But in adult education, many funding opportunities focus on helping learners enter and skill up in employment. While workforce initiatives are important, those students who are not workforce-bound are often forgotten. Caregivers, homemakers, and retired folks also deserve to learn English to improve the quality of their lives.
“In adult education, many funding opportunities focus on helping learners enter and skill up in employment. While workforce initiatives are important, those students who are not workforce-bound are often forgotten. Caregivers, homemakers, and retired folks also deserve to learn English to improve the quality of their lives.”
This grant “helps older Minnesotans thrive by providing the programs and resources that keep us all living in our own homes longer.” Some of our longest-attending students are now in their eighties; over the years, we’ve seen the importance of our learning community to them, and we’ve been the recipients of their wisdom and inspiring curiosity. Truly, our elder students embody the definition of lifelong learners.
A Way to Stay Connected
The Live Well at Home grant funds our Elder Literacy Project, which includes two new classes (distance learning for now) designed for learners ages 65 and up. We’ve adapt an elder-specific curriculum written by Literacy Minnesota and Common Bond, tailoring it for our school. The funding provided iPads for every student, which is key to the success of this project.
Over the last year, we’ve all learned the importance of staying intentionally and safely connected to our communities. We know that seniors are especially at risk of social isolation. Being part of this class will offer learners new and deepening relationships with their teachers and classmates. It will also give them the tools and skills they need to use technology to connect with their family and friends virtually.
Since that first staff meeting, we’ve helped students navigate technology barriers and launched our elder literacy classes. Some of our enrolled elder students include those we haven’t seen since the doors to our physical school closed back in March. Getting the word that one of our most well-known students (affectionately nicknamed “Big Mama” for her leadership) was returning to join our elder literacy class gave us all a joyful boost! We now look forward to seeing her and all our elder learners each week.