There is a little-known gem in Chesterfield County Public School’s education system and it comes in the form of its Adult Continuing Education program. After working as a GED teacher for three years, Dawn Wells, the Adult Education Program Manager, came into this role five years ago. She said she enjoys working with adults.
“After a couple years of teaching … I [became] a coordinator of testing,” Wells said. “[I] decided to leave teaching and pursue this full time, so I became a full-time GED coordinator overseeing the classes and the testing, and then slowly moved up when the administrator left about five years ago. I moved into the administrative position just because I enjoy the adult world.”
The adult education program offers GED testing, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), workforce training, and enrichment classes (fun classes such as financial planning, yoga, digital photography, languages and knitting). Day and night classes are offered during the spring and fall, with a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) day class in the summer. Classes were once only available for people 18 and up, but are now open to those under 18 if they co-enroll with a parent.
For county seniors there is also a Super Senior Passport providing a discount for adult education classes and free admission to school athletic and performing arts events.
Wells said the program has partnerships with different companies in hopes of providing work and find employable people.
“We have a partnership with the Omni Hotel in Richmond and Paragon Carpentry. They want employees to have certain skills, and so we got together and created a class that would give students the skills, and in return … they will interview them, and knowing that they had the course and that they got those skills, they’re gonna be one of the first on the list, hopefully, to be hired,” Wells said. “We do that all the time with different companies; they come in or they’ll call; dental offices call asking … [for] dental assistants and I’ll send out an e-mail to all our former dental assistants letting them know of a job opportunity.”
Wells said the program serves about 1,000 students a semester and between 3,000 and 4,000 students a year. Though workforce classes are most popular because people are trying to get work and becoming more employable, she said English has just as many students.
“I’d definitely say our workforce [classes] are the most popular but we probably run pretty equal with ESOL,” Wells said. “We have about 800 to 1,000 students a year, and ESOL runs about 800 to 1,000 students a year, so they’re about the same.”
Wells said the program is open to suggestions for new classes, and if potential studentswant a specific class, they can try to offer it if there are no limitations. She also said before canceling a class, the staff evaluates whether it is doing well after three semesters.
“We started a new policy that after a year and a half – that’s three semesters – of trying to run something that we’ll sit down and take a look and decide ‘Is it trending,’ Wells said. “We’ll go on the websites that show where job availability is in this area and analyze whether it’s something that’s needed in this area, [and] either try to revamp it or to get rid of it and look at something else. It takes a while for a class to take off because once you start something, nobody sees it first [but] then it slowly builds.”
Though Wells said it is a challenge to make the community aware of the program’s existence, she finds the program rewarding.
“I love adult education because … you see a want and a drive and a need, and then GED graduation is just so rewarding, it’s just a great experience,” Wells said.
Some classes are underway, and most have fees. A detailed guide of the classes may be picked up at the county libraries or found online at http://www.active.com/orgs/chesterfield-county-public-schools-adult-continuing-education?page=5.