CALLENGES AND PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Serving the complex needs of a large region with many clients located in remote and nearly inaccessible areas is not easy. Logistical problems are a daily challenge for Nine Star and its partners. Technology problems occur regularly, and finding adequate classroom space is difficult. Sustaining classes in many locations is expensive. Despite these difficulties, Nine Star’s director, David Alexander, emphasizes the importance of a long-term commitment. “You have to be flexible,” he says. “You have to go where the students are and have the patience to allow good programs to mature.”
Access to educational opportunities is limited in Alaska. Although technology potentially offers access from remote areas, many residents do not have Internet access or television, or they cannot reach a classroom. Nine Star and its partners are addressing this issue by expanding their PLATO project to increase program access for those able to use the Internet. PLATO is an adult education learning system, available in web-based and CD-ROM formats, with curricula in reading and writing, math, social studies, science, English literacy, work skills, and life skills. Nine Star offers the program at several sites in Anchorage, with the computer labs supported by AmeriCorps members. An AmeriCorps VISTA member is currently developing a distance education program, so that PLATO materials can be accessed from home or a public facility.
Nine Star wants more employers in the area to see themselves as partners in workforce development and adult education. Around Anchorage, some of the larger hotels and other industries support adult education, but they are a small sample of the employers in the region. Nine Star has worked to involve the business community by creating a staff position dedicated to that purpose. Caroline Gill-McLemore, Nine Star’s business liaison and job developer, works closely with local business leaders and employers’ human resource departments to place Nine Star clients. She emphasizes the importance of knowing the culture of a company, being candid about whether prospective employees need a sheltered work environment (due to low levels of English literacy, for example), and following up once a client has a job. Follow-up can include visiting clients at the work site, providing special on-the-job training, developing a special curriculum to support a client’s employment goals, or offering work-site literacy courses.
Nine Star aims to continue improving the quality of services for communities with the fewest educational opportunities by expanding its work in the following areas: