In rural areas, it can be hard to offer a variety of educational options. Such was the case for Piscataquis County in central Maine, which only has around 17,000 residents. The four school districts that make up the county’s education system formed the Piscataquis Valley Adult Education Cooperative (PVAEC) in 2005 to offer the county’s adults alternative education that can help them progress toward gainful employment and a possible career.
The PVAEC must also comply with recent legislation surrounding the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The Act is designed to help Americans tap into the millions of unfilled jobs through aligning the skills employers need to the education of our future workforce. While the act does impose additional challenges for schools, it also presents an opportunity to expand offerings to students.
“We serve varying age and learning levels. Some are high-end learners while others are challenged,” reported PVAEC director Thelma Regan.
Like many rural economies, Piscataquis’s was based heavily in manufacturing that has since been moved overseas or has become simply obsolete. As new businesses look to take root or expand in the area, they require an employment base with a diverse group of skills.
Powered by Plato Courseware, including the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Library andWorkKeys solutions, the Cooperative offers courses in five major categories: Business & Skills, College Transitions, HiSET®/High School Completion, Literacy, and Personal Enrichment. These courses are delivered at PVAEC’s four learning centers and through the county’s corrections department.
Because the Cooperative has to serve the varied needs of an entire county, Ms. Regan has taken an “all of the above” approach to her programming.
“We serve our learners using both the online program, making some items printable, or creating courses tailored to each individual learner and their needs.”
The PVAEC course catalog provides hundreds of offerings, many of which were proposed by current or potential students. The Cooperative’s website even provides a form for learners to make suggestions of needed courses.
“What we like best about our Plato solutions is that they are user- and learner-friendly, but having the ability to pull from various courses to create a course for each individual as needed is a game changer,”Ms. Regan said.
In June, PVAEC holds their annual graduation ceremony to recognize the adult learners that made the commitment to future success. In 2015, 29 learners earned their high school or HiSET® diplomas. There were also 9 Certified Nursing Assistant certificates and 3 Class-B commercial driver licenses awarded.Without PVAEC, these learners would undoubtedly have very different employment prospects.
“I’ve seen it myself many, many times; the student becomes confident in themselves. They have a new belief that they can accomplish their goals when they earn their diploma,” reflected Ms. Regan.
Perhaps more importantly, the economy in Piscataquis County has rebounded. Hundreds of jobs have been added in the past few years and the county is scheduled to receive a high-speed fiber internet backbone that should further improve the viability of the local economy. Thanks to the PVAEC, those employers will find willing and qualified employees waiting for them.
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