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Lessons In Life Learning Centers Offer Opportunity For Adults To Gain Their Basic Education And Get Ahead

Kolyne Lewandowski dropped out of high school in Spokane when she was a sophomore. “I was going through a partying stage and having too much fun,” she said.

The party came to an end, and the 19-year-old North Side resident decided to get serious about her life. She’s back in school.

Lewandowski is one of nearly 2,000 students in northeast Washington enrolled in classes for adult basic education and English as a second language.

She is studying for her high school equivalency degree at the Adult Basic Education Center on North Monroe at Jackson.

It is one of two former Safeway grocery stores on the North Side that have been converted into learning centers. The other is the Hillyard Center on Market Street. Both are operated by the Community Colleges of Spokane through the Institute for Extended Learning.

The centers were intentionally put in neighborhoods where low- and middle-income people live because that part of the population frequently needs better education.

“I just want to get my life together and get it going,” Lewandowski said.

Her goal is to enroll in a construction or nursing program at the community colleges after she gets her general equivalency degree (GED).

She lives with her father on the North Hill about a mile away from the Monroe Street center. She rides the bus or walks when the weather is nice.

Ted Denison, 23, lives just six blocks from the center. Like Lewandowski, he is back in school to get his GED, and wants to go on to college. He has a wife and two kids to support, and knows he needs an education to get a decent job.

There are other similar stories. Kayla Hurd, 28, wants to get a college degree in business management so she and her husband can start a construction business and make enough money to raise their family. But first she has to get her GED.

Families need to have two incomes in today’s economy, she said. “It’s about the only way a family can make it is to work together,” Hurd said.

Some of the students are on public assistance. Others are living with parents, or working and going to school.

Dana, who declined to give her last name, said she’s trying to raise a child, but had to turn to welfare when she broke up with her husband. She said she feels guilty about taking state assistance, and that’s why she wouldn’t give her last name.

But she wants to get on her own feet economically, and sees school as the only realistic way to do that. “It’s really hard to make it without education,” she said. “I’m interested in going as far as I can go.”

School officials said 20 to 25 percent of high school students drop out before they get a diploma. There may be as many as 50,000 people in northeast Washington who haven’t finished high school, said Sally Grabicki, associate dean of instruction for the centers.

The community colleges are trying to reach as many of them as possible through the two centers and other facilities in the region.

“Literacy is a big problem in our community,” said Ron LaFayette, director of extended learning. “We certainly aren’t running out of students.”

Teachers said they respect the students for owning up to their educational shortcomings and trying to improve themselves.

“It’s really scary to come through our doors and say, `I cannot read. I cannot do math,”’ Grabicki said.

The state reimburses the colleges for the cost of adult basic education. The centers are being leased from a property management arm of Safeway at a cost of about $300,000 a year for both. The Monroe center opened in 1988; the Hillyard center, in 1990.

The two North Side centers provide a range of services. Immigrants can take English as a second language, and study for a test to become a U.S. citizen. Those students may also continue in the high-school degree program.

Students who are below the eighth grade level can enroll in a lower basic education program to get them ready for high-school level courses.

Learning may be done individually or in classroom groups.

Handicapped students get special help from aides.

Kellie Peterson, 32, has cerebral palsy. She’s been working on her GED for eight years, and is being helped by student aide Shelah Riggins.

The Hillyard Center doubles as headquarters for Spokane County’s Head Start program, which serves pre-school children from low-income families.

At the Hillyard Center some of the parents drop off their children for the half-day Head Start program and then attend classes for their GEDs.

The two centers still bear some of the trappings of their grocery pasts.

At the Hillyard Center, an outdoor playground was built just outside the former loading dock. At the Monroe Center, a computer lab is housed where vegetables were washed and trimmed.

“I just tell people we’re the vegetable bin back here,” said lab teacher Betty Wilson.

ILLUSTRATION: Three Photos, One Color

Tags: education

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