Reaching The Next Step- Adult Basic Education Classes Provide A Platform To A Higher Education

Story and Photo by Derek Langhorn

Travis Peterson and Denise Ranney
Travis Peterson and Denise Ranney

Whatcom Community College’s Adult Basic Education (ABE) program allows people to return to school and receive basic math, reading and writing classes. These classes allow their students to learn the skills they need to prepare for GED or college placement tests.

Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (IBEST) is a program that helps ABE students work towards a specific career path, and Travis Peterson, the IBEST coordinator at Whatcom said that some students take ABE classes because they think “this career choice that I have made is not leading where I wanted.”

“Some students may have had a manual job in the past, and want to come back [to school],” Peterson said. “[The] era of being a mechanic for 40 years is quickly fading away.”

While the student is enrolled in the basic education classes, they can also be placed in a program that leads to a career. The career courses offered at Whatcom include business, multiple medical courses, and NCA (nursing assistant certified).

Some students have “a realization that their current skills aren’t going to provide for them,” Peterson said. “[IBEST and ABE] is a path that will lead [students] to a career that is emotionally and financially satisfying.”

The IBEST classes support the students in many ways, said Denise Ranney, an ABE instructor and IBEST support instructor at Whatcom. In the IBEST classes, there is an instructor and a support instructor, who teach students how to be better students by giving support and extra help, Peterson said.

“In the [IBEST] class you learn the hard skills that will get you a job, and the IBEST [program] teaches you the soft skills that keep the job,” Peterson said. Through support and education, students push each other, and receive the support they need to succeed, Ranney said.

Ranney said that students come back to school for many reasons, and many people who come back to school and are looking for retraining, because they lost their jobs.

Workers must now have more than one skill, and must be open to learning more, Ranney said.

In the ABE and IBEST classes, instructors have their students set clear goals, Peterson said, such as what they want to achieve in their education.

These classes are about “working towards our students’ goals,” Ranney said. “We want to see you get to the next step.”

Students learn to “have that goal and start turning that rudder in the right direction so the ship finds the port,” Peterson said.

Many students that are involved in the ABE and IBEST programs are people from other countries, Peterson said. Some of these students lack the basic English skills to thrive in the US, and may come from a culture where returning to school is not commonplace, Peterson said.

“We have a culture of being able to go back to school,” Peterson said. In other cultures this may not happen, he said.

Peterson said that many people from other countries believe that once they choose a path to follow, that they cannot change that path in the future. “You can make changes– you can do anything you want,” he said.

The ABE program is about “realizing things about yourself and discovering things you didn’t know that you could do,” Ranney said. “You have to figure out– where is this leading me? Where do I want to be?”

“We are always there for the students that need us,” Peterson said. “It will always be an open door.”

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