From dropout to drop-in. Two Kentucky counties turn the tables on illiteracy with an adult education program that goes to where the students are

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

LIKE many other young girls in eastern Kentucky, Lynn Hudson dropped out of high school when she was 15 years old to get married. By the time she was 21, Lynn had five children. The chances of her being able to complete her education seemed dim, but in 1985 Lynn enrolled in a GED (General Educational Development) program sponsored by Appalachian Communities for Children.

ACC, a group of local citizens dedicated to solving local problems at the local level, provided not only a tutor but also transportation and day-care services. Lynn obtained her high school equivalency diploma and is now the manager of Jackson County's Literacy Project, another ACC-sponsored program.

Lynn's story is far from unique.

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When the 1980 census revealed that the Fifth Congressional District, where Jackson County is located, was home to the highest percentage of uneducated adults in the entire country, that statistic sparked a district-wide effort to improve education. Appalachian Communities for Children in Jackson County developed an adult education program that now is considered one of the best in the region.

ACC's adult education program started in Jackson County in 1985 with a staff of four part-time paraprofessional teachers and a fund of $13,000 from the Job Training Partnership Act. That first year the staff helped 18 people obtain their GEDs. In the two years that ACC has been active in Clay County, enrollment in adult education programs has skyrocketed from 0 to 259. Now there are 20 part-time tutors on the ACC staff.

So far this year 87 people in the two counties have received their GEDs thanks to the ACC tutors.

``We're heading for 100,'' says Otto Fields, adult education coordinator for ACC.

Fields dropped out of school himself at age 13. When he was in his late 20s, he obtained his high school diploma through a correspondence course. He is not the only ``drop-in'' among ACC's tutors, many of whom are GED recipients. In fact, five of the present tutors are graduates of ACC's own program.

``We understand dropouts,'' Fields explains, ``because we've been there ourselves.''

``One of the reasons for our success,'' says Judy Martin, executive director of ACC, ``is the respect our teachers show for their students. Dropouts are sometimes looked down on, but when you come through our door you become a drop-in, and you're good enough for us.''

Martin points out that ACC is not associated with any school and does not hold its classes in school buildings. ``Many of our students are so intimidated by schools that if they had to go to a school building to take their classes, they wouldn't go.''

Where are classes held?

Community centers, libraries, court houses, fire departments, the tutors' homes. Many classes are held in the students' homes. This can be an inconvenience for the tutors, especially in the winter, when back roads in these rural counties are muddy or snow-covered.

``We went in hollows in four-wheel-drives where I just had to cover my eyes,'' laughs tutor Margaret Harris. ``But when we'd get there, we'd just sit down at the kitchen table and get to work. I'm proud of everybody I work with. They work hard and every one of them is special to me.''

According to Ms. Martin, this recognition of each student as a special individual is another key to ACC's success. ``We know each student by name and by learning style, and we provide individualized tutoring.''

ACC tutors don't wait for students to come to them. They go out and recruit. Sometimes the people they recruit are family members. When Pat Cornett started working with ACC, one of her first students was her brother.

``Now he's enrolled at Sue Bennett College,'' Ms. Cornett says proudly.

Being an ACC tutor is not an easy job. Schoolteachers are normally certified for a limited grade range, but ACC tutors are expected to work with nonreaders through 12th-grade level. The normal gain in school is one grade level per year. ACC's standards call for one grade level per 72 hours of instruction. The tutors work hard for low pay, often logging extra hours on a volunteer basis.

``We have the sharpest, most-dedicated, hardest-working staff anywhere,'' says Martin with justifiable pride.

ACC's track record is impressive. It has one of the highest numbers of GED graduates and the lowest cost per student of any Job Training Partnership Act program in Kentucky. and was named the outstanding adult education program in south-central Kentucky in 1987.

But ACC is not resting on its laurels. Members recently contracted to purchase a building to establish an adult learning resource center where classes can be held during the day, in the evenings, and on weekends. They want to produce an eastern Kentucky reader, a reading book geared to adult students of the region. They have also undertaken an ambitious dropout prevention program and numerous community education projects.

ACC is changing things in eastern Kentucky because, as Martin says, ``We have a spirit that can't be outdone, that spirit of people who are not satisfied with things the way they are and are willing to work together to make things better.''

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