Local vocational program wins national honor
by Tom Joyce Staff Reporter
A local program called Creating Successful Learners is not only achieving its mission of providing vocational education to adults, but has gained success of its own by capturing a national award.
Creating Successful Learners recently received a 2013 Innovation Award from the National Association of Developmental Organizations (NADO) during an annual conference in San Francisco.
The local program, which is offered free of charge to young adults with developmental issues, was one of only five across the United States to be recognized in the field of youth education by NADO. The group also presented awards in the categories of workforce development, transportation and others.
“We’re pretty excited about that,” Polly Long, coordinator of the eLink Youth Work Program, an umbrella agency for Creating Successful Learners, said of the award.
Formed in 2010, Creating Successful Learners is a joint effort of Surry Community College and Mount Airy City Schools, which utilizes former classrooms of the city’s junior high on North South Street.
Also, the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, an organization of counties and cities which works for economic development and other progress in the region, provides funding for Creating Successful Learners.
The award-winning program is geared toward individuals who have aged out of the school system. Participants are required to be at least 21 years old, with the present age range of the student body extending to 55.
The post-secondary educational program is for those who are too high-functioning for sheltered workshops or compensatory education classes through the community college, but need help developing life skills. Those involved can suffer from conditions such as autism, Down syndrome, birth defects and others.
“We have 37 new students there this fall,” Long said.
Ginny Stammetti, director for college and career readiness at Surry Community College, described Creating Successful Learners as a type of adult basic education program.
The focus is to help students achieve growth in academic and social skills, which can lead to jobs or least help them enjoy a more independent lifestyle.
And perhaps just as importantly, the students who might have spent their time at home watching television or playing video games are engaged in worthwhile activities in an environment of which they thought they’d never be part.
“Their dream was to go to college,” Stammetti explained, adding that this alone means a lot to the students.
Those participating undergo testing when entering Creating Successful Learners, then are grouped according to their skill levels — with the program tailored to their individual needs, according to Diane Barnett, its lead teacher.
“We have seen tremendous strides,” Barnett said regarding the progress of students, who in some cases have jumped multiple grade levels in reading and math.
The program involves about six part-time teachers and other staff members, who provide instruction in areas including literacy, functional math and computer/vocational skills.
“We test, but we’re not teaching the test,” Long said.
Students Praise Opportunity
“It’s meant a lot to me,” said Jade Johnson, 24, of Mount Airy, who has been involved in Creating Successful Learners since its formation in 2010. “I’ve got to meet new friends and I’ve got to learn new stuff.”
Ryan Matthews of Dobson, another student enrolled since the program began, is hoping it will help him achieve a dream of one day working as a mechanic. “I never thought I could go to college,” he said Tuesday.
“We have given them hope,” Long said of the program participants.
Along with the educational and other activities offered, Amy Arnold, 31, of Mount Airy, said it provides an opportunity to simply “get away from home.”
The students come from all over Surry County, and adjoining counties such as Yadkin and Virginia communities. One even rides a scooter each day from the other side of Dobson, while a former student who drove from Yadkinville now is working at a Sam’s Club store.
Classes meet four days per week from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Along with the free instruction, lunch is provided to students through the Child Nutrition Program.
A skilled-based apprenticeship component helps them become viable candidates in the workplace through a comprehensive assessment and placement effort.
Students in the Creating Successful Learners program have found jobs with Food Lion, J’s Office Supply, the public library, the movie theater, in maintenance and other fields.
Participants also provide community service, such as food collection for the needy, through the formation of their own Surry Community College Aktion Club, sponsored by the Mount Airy Kiwanis Club.
Model For Others
Long said the program is a true cooperative effort that is supplied through regular channels of the college while also using existing facilities of city schools. “The beauty of this is, it is not (funded by) a grant.”
The program also has become the site for a Mount Airy High School intern program, with two interns coming each day.
Long mentioned Tuesday that Creating Successful Learners is a unique effort. “Nobody, I don’t think, does this anywhere, which is why it won a national award,” she said.
So far the program has drawn the attention of educational officials in Rockingham and Rowan counties who are exploring similar efforts in their areas modeled after the one locally.
“So the word is getting out that we have something special here,” Long said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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