Paul Barrett, Associate Director of The Welcome Table, talks with Hixcy Cothran about Adult Education classes.
Computer and Zumba Classes, Coaching and More:
Our Adult Education Program Launched in October!
After a year of planning, The Welcome Table launched St. James School’s first Adult Education Program in October 2021. The innovative program, designed for learners 18+, follows the holistic model that informs the curriculum for grades 4-8. Adults can choose from an array of classes and services that help them increase self-efficacy and resilience while raising their academic and professional attainment in ways that best serve their lives.
The program is an ambitious evolution of The Welcome Table’s work. Originally, it focused on providing food, but it has grown into a multi-service neighborhood hub with big, bold ambitions to build community and help residents reach their life goals. The Welcome Table has formed trusting relationships with residents by hosting a weekly Farmer’s Market with free fresh produce and other foods, coordinating vaccination clinics, and serving as a bridge to services such as legal advice and home repairs.
“Every level of the Adult Education Program is informed by our relationships,” explains Paul Barrett, who joined The Welcome Table as Associate Director in 2020 and led the planning for adult education. “The way we are designing it is informed by our neighbors and partners in the community. We listened first.”
Something for everyone
Listening included focus group conversations and a comprehensive community survey, which Paul and The Welcome Table team distributed widely to make sure a diversity of voices were heard, including St. James parents and guardians, alumni, and neighborhood residents, ranging in age from 18-95. In total, 111 individuals completed the survey.
Interests varied by age group. For example, financial education was the top interest of those 18-55. The top interests for senior citizens (who comprised the largest survey group) were “reading the news, the Bible, and other books,” and computer/internet classes. For young adults, “gaining skills for a new career and support with college/degrees” was most popular. Across all age groups, people were interested in cooking, art, and recreational classes.
Paul says options include something for everybody. “This program is about self-improvement, whatever that looks like in your life! If it’s ‘I want to go back to school and get my GED’, we’re here for you,” Paul explains. “If it’s ‘I have a job and it pays the bills, but I feel like there’s something more out there for me,’ we’re here for you.”
Truly holistic and individualized
Program consultant Jennifer Kobrin, who has worked in the adult education field for 10 years, says, “The St. James School approach to adult education is really unique and special because it is truly holistic. By including one-on-one coaching, it’s also much more individualized” than most adult ed programs.
RAH (Ridge-Allegheny-Hunting Park) neighborhood resident Hixcy Cothran was among the first to sign up for the new program. “As seniors, we shouldn’t just sit around and be couch potatoes,” Hixcy shares. “You really need to get out and do things to keep your mind sharp!” She is taking Zumba exercise and computer classes. “Usually I just call my grandson when I don’t know how to do something on the computer,” she says. “But I’m really open to learning more about the things I don’t know how to do.”
As Adult Education Coordinator Musa Macenyane is focused on coaching. “I’m excited to extend what’s being done in the school house to our parents and guardians and the community at large,” Musa says. After just a couple of weeks of recruiting, nearly all of her coaching spots were full.
Paul is already envisioning the program expanding in the future. “When we have more demand than we can handle, we’ll see that as a good problem to have,” he says. “We are already looking ahead to how we will grow.”
New classes will start in January.
In its pilot year, the main elements of the Adult Education Program will be:
Classes on a diversity of topics – such as digital skills, financial literacy, cooking, and Zumba – spanning 6-10 weeks, taught by content experts.
One-on-one coaching to help participants identify and reach personal educational goals.
Community discussions providing opportunities for residents to learn more about and organize around issues impacting their lives.