As director of adult education for Tempe Union High School District, Vanda Salls understands that people sign up for the program for a variety of reasons.
Some are unemployed, some under-employed. Some want to improve their situation at work and qualify for a promotion. Most want to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Despite the specific reasons for enrolling, Salls said one thing is true for all of the students: they all arrive for the first day of class feeling nervous and scared.
“We recognize that all of the students have barriers that they have all overcome toward taking the first step to make their lives different,” said Salls, who has worked in the field of adult education for 20-plus years.
“And we recognize that they have made a very courageous decision to come back to school.”
Anyone 16 years of age and up who is not currently enrolled in a K through 12 school, who is a resident of Maricopa County and can demonstrate that they are lawfully here, is eligible for the free program, Salls said, adding that there is a nominal fee for testing.
Classes, which emphasize subjects like reading, numeracy and English acquisition, are held in locations that are easily accessible and offer four 9-week sessions, meeting twice a week.
Most students are between 25 and 44 years old, Salls said, although some are as old as 70. The biggest increase has been in students in the 16- to 21-year age range.
“The students who are much older—they are the ones who want to do this just for themselves,” she said.
“But most of the time we are focused on helping under-employed and unemployed people obtain their GED, re-enter the work force or get into the work force, or make the transition to post-secondary education or training.”
Statistics support the need for programs like the one offered at TUHSD, Salls said.
“In Arizona, 17 percent of the population age 16 and older do not have a high school diploma or GED and are not enrolled in school,” she said, noting that 20 percent of all high school diplomas issued in Arizona are through GED programs.
“New jobs and the modern economy require workers with higher, more advanced skills.”
Students who sign up for adult education are given a pre-test to help determine where they are in their learning, and to help them set goals for the program.
“We understand that there are a whole variety of reasons why people left school, so we try to make the learning environment as comfortable as we can,” Salls said.
“We offer individual instruction as much as possible, and as often as we can, we want students to have a seamless transition from their previous school to our program. You don’t have to spend time as a drop-out—we can enroll you right away in the GED program.”
Although the adult education program does not get a lot of publicity, Salls said the word still gets out; often from previous students who are spreading the word to others who might also need the program’s services.
“Success breeds success,” she said.
For more information on the adult education program, visit https://www.tuhsd.k12.az.us ; click on Community, then Community Education, then Adult Education.