Conway Adult Ed Center gains students at new location

By Tammy Keith Published September 16, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Debbie Ferguson, left, computer-training coordinator at the Conway Adult Education Center, 125 Center St., talks with Tracy Nabholz in the new computer lab during the center’s open house. The center relocated its programs to the former Sallie Cone Elementary School building.

— The Conway Adult Education Center was tucked away in a neighborhood church. Now the center is in a former elementary school and gaining students.

“I think the location is great,” said Ruth Ann Williams, longtime director. “We’ve already seen an increase in numbers,” particularly for English as a Second Language teacher Christi Barnard.

“Probably her classroom has trip-led already,” Williams said.

The center was on East Robins Street for years, then moved to Lee Avenue and shared a space for a year with Mosaic Church.

“They were wonderful. It was a good relationship, but the location was a little more difficult for students to find,” Williams said.

“Everyone in Conway knew where Sallie Cone [Elementary School] was,” she said. It’s northwest of the former Faulkner County Fairgrounds, which now is Conway Station Park, a boys baseball complex.

The center’s students and staff celebrated Wednesday with an open house.

After a reorganization in the Conway School District, the former elementary school is being used as a pre-kindergarten center on one side and the adult-education center on the other.

“[Superintendent Greg] Murry and his staff have been wonderful in helping us transition to this facility,” Williams said.

The doors are locked between the wings for safety, Williams said, and the entrance for adult education has a separate entrance on Center Street.

Barnard said many students in the ESL program had children who attended Sallie Cone Elementary and feel comfortable taking classes there.

“We’re really excited about our numbers,” she said. Barnard said that at the end of last year, the ESL program had 150 students.

Already, 75 have enrolled this year, she said.

Barnard credits the new location for the increase.

“I think it’s helped tremendously,” she said.

Maria Rodriguez, 31, said she drives from Cabot to Conway every day to take ESL classes.

“They don’t offer anything like that there,” she said. “I need to get better in my speaking and my writing — it’s better for me just to socialize and do my job.”

The Conway Adult Education Center serves about 2,000 adults per year, Williams said.

“Our largest age population is 25 to 44, and that’s in a variety of programs,” she said. “Our workplace training program is one of our largest groups now.”

Program facilities include the WAGE Training Center in the Center Street location and the Workforce Center on Siebenmorgen Road.

The program is for adults working on certificates issued by the state and career-readiness certificates.

“They’ve been out of school for a while, maybe need to brush up on computers skills,” Williams said.

Inez Valentine, 59, of Conway worked at Virco Manufacturing Corp. in Conway for 20 years and took a voluntary layoff.

She had to do more than brush up.

“I came here and had never turned a computer on,” she said as she sat in front of a computer in the technology center. “I was terrified that I would do something wrong. These guys (her instructors) — they’ve made it so easy to understand; it took the fear out.

“I have learned so much, so much.”

When she started a year ago, she could only type five words per minute, she said.

“Check this out,” Valentine said, smiling, holding a certificate that listed her typing speed at 34 words per minute.

“Any job you get, you’re just going to have to use a computer,” she said. “I do my job searches on the computer.”

She said she bought herself a laptop computer for Christmas and has a Facebook page.

Williams said customer-service training and bank-teller certificates are also offered at the center.

“Our partners have told us what they want their employees to have. The lessons are customized,” Williams said.

Kathryn Rasure, instructor in the WAGE job-training program, said five certificates are offered, plus career readiness.

“This is a way for people to get free education when people say, ‘You should go back to college.’”

The adult-education center also has ACT prep classes and helps adults brush up on math and English/grammar skills if they need to before re-entering college.

The GED program, a high school-diploma equivalency, “is wonderful,” but small, Williams said, and she is afraid the classes are going to shrink even more in 2014.

In 2014, students will be charged to take the test, “and that’s a sad thing,” she said.

The cost could be up to $120, she said.

Arkansas is one of the few states that has not charged for the program, she said.

“That’s a Washington, D.C., situation, and it’s going to be all online,” Williams said.

“The majority of our people cannot afford that, and if that is something that is going to deter them from getting a job, that’s not good.”

Students may enter the GED program anytime and go at their own pace.

Jasmine Halfmoon, 20, of Conway, is enrolled in the GED program.

She was home-schooled, and that meant traveling in a motor home to see the world, she said.

“I’ve been in over 40 states, and I’ve lived in five, including Hawaii,” she said.

Halfmoon said she wouldn’t trade the life experience, but her math skills need improving.

“I’m getting my GED so I can go to massage school,” she said.

Her goal is to move back to Hawaii and offer massage and tour packages on the islands.

Halfmoon said the center’s new location is “a lot nicer, a lot bigger, more room for students.”

Williams said the center offers some classes, such as digital photography and many computer classes, for a “small fee.”

“Our goal is to not make a profit. Our teachers are paid for through a grant through the state. The money goes back, usually, to buying a piece of equipment,” she said.

The Conway Adult Education Center has approximately 30 employees, the majority of whom are part time “because of funding issues,” Williams said.

“Now that we’re in a better, larger facility, I think we’ll be able to do more partnerships and maybe more classes that adults in our communities will feel comfortable to come here and take,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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