As Connecticut’s K-12 schools closed their doors to in-person learning in March, EASTCONN’s Adult Education high school programs quickly followed suit.
EASTCONN teachers scrambled to develop virtual learning models, so students could continue progress toward their high school degree. Staff cultivated new teaching strategies that would support student learning in an unfamiliar, mostly online environment.
“It was a huge shift, and a steep learning curve for all of us,” said Kristin Hempel, EASTCONN’s Adult Education Associate Director.
As classes restarted in early April, teachers combined live Zoom classes with active Google classrooms for shared learning activities. Additional online platforms were also provided, so students could access personalized, self-paced instruction at their convenience. Many who lacked Internet or WiFi could still participate in classes, using paper and/or phone-based options. One-on-one help was always available.
Through it all, EASTCONN continued to offer three free ways to earn a high school diploma: GED; the Credit Diploma Program (CDP); and the National External Diploma Program (NEDP).
“One of the benefits of our education programs was the guidance we offered – and continue to offer – in spite of COVID-19 and distance learning,” said Hempel. “Our instructors can quickly identify and address students’ key academic gaps. They know how to coach students and build their essential test-taking skills. When we say a student is ready to test, they are very likely to pass.”
To keep spirits high, staff used social media, named students-of-the-week, highlighted student work and offered free self-care Zoom sessions with certified counselors. Staff also connected students with support services from valued EASTCONN partners like CT Legal Services, which addressed concerns such as housing.
Even so, COVID-19 dampened graduation prospects for many. Prior to March, 88 adults were expected to graduate in June. But due to many factors, including the statewide closure of GED testing centers and a temporary halt to NEDP assessments, just 49 students graduated. Even so, all CDP students, whom EASTCONN was directly responsible for assessing, successfully graduated last spring.
Fall classes resumed in September, when EASTCONN’s Willimantic and Danielson Adult & Community Education sites reopened for scheduled appointments. For now, distance learning classes will continue. EASTCONN has opened a Learning Lab, where students can attend Technology Bootcamp and a Distance Learning Orientation; both offer in-person coaching to guide participants toward full, virtual learning. Vouchers for Internet services are available.
“In the end, our goal is to prepare our adult students for success,” said Hempel, “because we know that earning a high school diploma, whether in-person or online, can provide them with more options and a brighter future, no matter what path they choose.”