PHOTO The Adult Learning Centre’s latest GPS course (March 20-23) has convinced Doug Newman (with Kyla Bates and Dave Anderson), “you can teach an old dog new tricks”. “It was a worthwhile and informative course,” he told us. “GPS includes map and compass reading, claim staking, and other topics. Brenda [Hainey] was our instructor; she’s good at it. It was shoulder-to-shoulder and fun to boot. We went out into the bush and put what we learned to the test. The weather was brisk; it was a good walk and good things came of it. Kyla was the wiz and Dave and I did alright. There was even a sighting!” The centre is planning another GPS course among its spring offerings, call 597-1242 or drop in at the Rawn Road Centre for details. (PHOTO COURTESY ADULT LEARNING CENTRE)
The Adult Learning Centre remains an essential service in Atikokan, and it continues to scrape by on the same annual funding it has had since 2007.
The centre “provides free, confidential, learner-centred tutoring for adults who want to improve their life and learning skills,” said board chair Brad Beyak. He went on to praise the staff of four (Becky Groulx, Jeannine Stus, Melanie Luptak, and Brenda Hainey) for creating “a respectful, compassionate and caring social environment” for learners, and introducing them to other similar environments in Atikokan.
His comments were made at the Centre’s annual meeting April 20. (It was actually the annual meeting for 2015-16, as the centre is playing catch-up on its corporate duties. But much of the discussion at the meeting centred around 2016-17 activities; it should be ready to hold that annual meeting this summer.)
Executive director Becky Groulx said the tight financing forces the Centre to operate very efficiently and creatively. But there are obviously limits to how far the $200,000 it receives from the province can be stretched. The Centre has been reaching out to the First Nations at Seine River and Lac La Croix, to good effect, but with only limited money for travel and child care supports, it can be very difficult for these learners to get anything more than occasional help.
The Centre – like all of the literacy and basic skills programs in Ontario – has been challenged by shifting priorities at the provincial level.
An independent review of the programs (274 sites, over 40,000 learners in over 11 million hours of programming for $84 million) called them “vital, valued, and effective”. It gave high marks to the curriculum and performance management frameworks the centres use, but noted there were problems that needed to be addressed.
“These problems stem from fragmented leadership, poor relations between the Ministry and the field, threats to sustainability (including inadequate funding), and a lack of a clear vision for whom the program is intended to serve,” the review concluded.
The challenges faced by the Atikokan centre are not unusual in smaller towns. Staff pushed hard to meet the provincial standards for the operation – 99 learners completed enough components in their self-directed learning plans to be counted toward the centre’s target for the year (100 learners).
That doesn’t include the many learners who took part in the centre’s one-off programs, or learners who made it only part way through their plan.
“From another agency’s perspective, there is great benefit for our learners just getting their foot in the door,” said board member Tammy Faykes. “Many of them face so many obstacles every day – usually their education needs are only a small part of their overall needs – that each time they do [come it to the Adult Learning Centre] it builds a trust that can [lead to better things]. Even if it takes two years to build enough trust to [start a full learning program] that’s an accomplishment.”
“It just takes so much courage to come in that door,” said board member JoAnn DeGagne.
There is a contradiction when the province uses an arbitrary set of measurements about which learners’ achievements count to judge the work of agencies delivering what are supposed to be learner-centred programs.
“It can be difficult to get the learners to complete all the tasks required for [their learning] to be counted,” said Groulx. “To the ministry, it’s all numbers – that’s how they roll.”
The board did a bit of brainstorming about how it might encourage learners to take those steps, but the question remains: Is completing these requirements more valuable to the Ministry than to the learners?
Ultimately the board remains focussed on the good the centre does, helping people improve their income and social status, expand their employment opportunities and social support networks, and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.
“Involvement with the Atikokan Adult Learning Centre leads to better health of all program participants and works to further the well-being of the community in a truly cost-effective manner,” said chair Behyak.
- Acclaimed to one-year terms on the board were Beyak, Bridget Davidson, JoAnn DeGagne, Tammy Faykes, and Lisa Marusyk. Two years terms went to Yvonne Connor, Mary Makarenko, Michael Heaton, and learner rep William Zerebeski.