Located in the rolling hills at the foot of the Berkshires, the city of Holyoke encompasses an inner-city center, quiet residential streets, and spacious suburban areas. It sits in the midst of five prestigious colleges and universities, yet almost 23 percent of its population of 40,000 could benefit from adult basic education, adult secondary education, and English language acquisition support. This includes many who need both English literacy and adult basic and secondary instruction.
Once known as the Paper City, Holyoke has undergone a significant transformation since the 1920s. Many of the paper mills that gave the city its nickname have closed their doors. The city has lost about one third of its population since the 1920s, mostly among its white residents. Between 1980 and 2000, the white population decreased by almost 16,000, while the Latino population grew by over 10,000, an increase of 170 percent. During their boom, the mills offered residents with limited English-speaking skills a source of employment. Without the mills, many adults are struggling to earn a living wage.
The statistics are telling. In 2000, 14 percent of Latinos were unemployed and nearly half lived in poverty. In comparison, only 7 percent of the city's overall adult population was unemployed and one-quarter lived in poverty. Almost half of Holyoke's Latino population is under age 18, and many are still learning to speak English. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 43 percent of Holyoke's population aged five and older speaks a language other than English at home, and nearly 20 percent of the same age group speaks English "less than very well."
Holyoke residents face tough economic circumstances. Over 30 percent of Holyoke's population does not have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Estimates show that at least 9,000 Holyoke adults are in need of ABE, EL, or adult secondary education. Yet the service industry, now the dominant employer in the community, often requires higher levels of education. As a result, many Holyoke employers are turning to workers outside the city to fill open positions.
The low education level of Holyoke's adults also is considered one of the reasons the community's children are struggling academically, according to a public school administrator. She pointed out that many parents do not have the necessary literacy skills to support their children's education, and until parents develop these skills, their children will remain at a disadvantage with respect to their performance on the state's standardized tests.
Beginning in 1995, with encouragement from the state, three organizations decided that the best way to address the growing need for adult basic education and English literacy in Holyoke was to coordinate their services and collaborate on, rather than compete for, funding from the Massachusetts Department of Education. These providers, the Holyoke Adult Learning Opportunities Center, the Community Education Project, and the Community Adolescent Resource and Education Center, formed Juntos. Each organization offers adult education services and each has different characteristics and strengths.
The HALO Center is part of the Holyoke public school system, which provides funding and in-kind support to Juntos and serves as the partnership's lead agency and fiscal sponsor. The Community Education Project, initially funded by Hampshire College and now an independent nonprofit, is primarily Latino in its students, staff, and governance. Also serving mainly Latinos, the Care Center is a nonprofit offering a wide range of education and support services to teenage parents and their families.
THE CARE CENTER
According to Ana Rodriguez, education director of the Care Center, "We want to light some fires. We want to engage students' brains, their bodies, their spirits. It's not just about coming here to learn to pass the GED exam. We have made conscious decisions to give our students the chance to own their education, to succeed as students, to move beyond the GED and on to college." These ambitions for Care's students are evident in the Center's curriculum, programs, services, and environment. Since 1996, The Care Center has served thousands of young women, providing them with education, counseling, support services, and a warm, friendly environment.
The Center's decision to provide ABE/GED instruction and college preparation within a liberal arts context is on display everywhere. Visitors are greeted by a large sculpture on the front lawn that integrates castings of student and faculty hands and faces. In the reception area, student poetry covers the walls. The stairwell walls display students' photographs from a photography class offered at the Center by the University of Massachusetts. Pictures of student athletes are posted prominently.
The Center runs the Teen Mother Education and Support Program for young mothers who are working toward their GED diploma. The program includes pre-GED and GED classes in English and Spanish, English literacy, private tutoring, field trips, and elective courses in the humanities, music, art, and athletics. On-site daycare, transportation, student support and counseling, and job placement services are also available. Administrators, teachers, and the career counselor (who is a Care Center graduate) encourage students to pursue higher education.
In addition to the Teen Mother Education and Support Program, the Center offers its students the opportunity to join "Rowing Strong, Rowing Together." Young women who participate in the program learn not only how to row, but also the importance of teamwork. The Care Center has found this program to be a "crucial ingredient" in their students' future success because it helps build their self-esteem and sense of community. Donations, private and government grants, the United Way, and investment revenue fund these and other programs of the Care Center.
After receiving the state education department grant, the Juntos partners were directed by the department to join forces with Holyoke Community College. Besides connecting Juntos directly to higher education, the community college brought another asset to the partnership, the Mentor Program. This program helps adult learners make the transition from adult basic education to Holyoke Community College by providing academic preparation, counseling, and the support of a mentor. The program enlists former ABE students who have already successfully moved on to college to serve as mentors and encourages the development of their leadership skills.
During the first collaborative grant cycle, coordinators from each of these four organizations began working together on the mission of the partnership, funding issues, and community planning for adult education services. In 1999, their community planning was advanced by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE). With this money, Juntos was able to team up with a local nonprofit, Enlace de Familias/Holyoke Family Network, to form the Holyoke ABE Community Planning Partnership and to produce an initial (1999) Adult Basic Education Assets and Needs Statement. (An updated and much more extensive version of this document was developed in 2002-03). The report examined the status of adult education in Holyoke and found, among other things, that more adult education services were needed; too many of the community's adults with low literacy skills were not being reached.
There has been considerable progress since the original partners created Juntos. For example, the partners have doubled the number of classroom places for learners since 1995, (adding 76 new places since 1999); increased the number of classes offered during the evening; and boosted the enrollment of male students from 20 percent in 1998-1999 to 33 percent in 2000-2001. In 2000, Juntos attracted two additional partners, the New England Farmworkers Council and Massachusetts Career Development Institute. Both helped to fill gaps in services, specifically, Spanish pre-GED and evening English literacy instruction. The Farmworkers Council also brought other services to Juntos, such as vouchers for daycare, a close relationship with the local employment center, and computer workshops. MCDI also expanded the range of services Juntos can offer its learners. It offers vocational training in office systems technology and nursing assistance and provides job placement, counseling, and, through a partnership with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMASS), nutritional counseling on site.