The Blount County Adult Education program is based in the Everett High School building in Maryville, a 10-minute drive from the Maryville College Campus. The program offers classes in GED preparation, English as a second language, workforce skills and basic computer skills.
Outside of the classroom, Everett offers tutoring and free GED practice testing and official GED testing. Beyond all this, Carol Ergenbright, the Blount County Adult Education Program Coordinator, thinks that the program offers something more.
“We provide a second chance, or a third chance,” Ergenbright said, “However, many chances a person needs to complete their education so that they can become self-sufficient, buy into that American dream, and have a better future for themselves and for their families.
It also benefits the community as whole, because when people earn their GED and are able to get better jobs, they become taxpayers rather than recipients of aid.” Right now, around 600 students are enrolled in the Blount County Adult Education program. This number does not include the multiple students who have taken less than 12 credit hours so far.
This year, $30,000 of funding has been cut from the program. The primary source of funding for the program is grant money, and although the program also receives funding through the Adult Education Foundation, United Way and the Alcoa Foundation, this cut has caused serious woes for those who are most devoted to keeping the program afloat, and ultimately hinders the success of the students of Everett.
“We had to make some serious cuts in our program,” Ergenbright said. “We’ve eliminated an evening part-time teacher. Fortunately, we have a staff that has really stepped up and assumed additional responsibilities… as you can tell, we’re really busy.” Elimination of all Friday classes, and cuts to all Monday through Thursday class times have also been necessary.
“We cut back our young adult class from four to three days,” Ergenbright said. “That class is for 16 and 17-year olds, and seems to be our fastest growing group of students.” “We’ve also removed all instructional materials from the budget,” Ergenbright said. “We have no money for those materials. If we run out of paper, there is no money for additional paper. We’ve cut everything that we could possibly cut, and still continue doing our job. We didn’t have much fat to begin with, and will continue to look for additional funding as the year goes on.” With this major budget cut, volunteer work at Everett has become even more important. Joe Gallagher, a part-time teacher for Everett, says that volunteers are a critical part of Everett adult education.
“We have few teachers that can spend time with students on a one to one basis,” Gallagher said. “That’s what volunteers do… Some [volunteers] are from MC, some are retired teachers and others are just people from the community.” Gallagher also emphasized that volunteers do not have to be teachers or plan to be teachers to help in the classes. He used the example of writing skills, pointing out that writing a page-long essay for the GED is no easy task for the adult students, and that writing is an imperative skill. “We use volunteers to help us teach, to fill in the gaps with teaching,” Gallagher said. This includes the ESL classes and the GED preparation courses. Volunteers can also help with some administrative work. Because of last year’s budget cuts, the program can no longer support a fulltime administrative employee.
“This year it is a struggle to get all the documentation that the state requires,” Ergenbright said. Ergenbright is no stranger to the world of adult education. She has worked with Everett’s program since 1984, and says that adult education is “getting younger every year”.
“When I first started with this program and went to the first state meeting, the goal was to work ourselves out of a job,” Ergenbright said. “The hope was that as schools got better, fewer people would be dropping out. Our goal was to be completely done with adult education by the year 2000.We’re still seeing a lot of young adults that are not completing high school, and who instead need a GED.” Ergenbright thinks that this trend makes adult education even more important.
“We are no longer working with our traditional adult students,” Ergenbright said. “We are working with people who are the future of our country. We need people to have those skills that will allow them to hold good jobs, and to be good parents. They say that the parent is the first teacher and the most important teacher of every child, and if the parent has an education, it’s more likely that the child will also do well in school.”
Everett is always open to new volunteers, and welcomes MC students. If you are interested in volunteering with Everett, please call the office at (865) 982-8998 and leave a message with your name, phone number and how you would like to help, or call Carol Ergenbright at (865) 661- 8747.