July 1, 2013

Our View: Portland Adult Ed merits permanent home

This important link in our public education system should have the central facility it needs.

Portland Adult Education is more than just a school for the 4,000 or so city residents who use it every year. It's a way out of poverty. It's a chance to change course.

click image to enlarge

Portland Adult Education teacher Kathleen Hiscock works with Soe Reh, a refugee from Myanmar (also known as Burma), during his first English lesson in 2009. The building that’s housed Portland Adult Education for 27 years has deteriorated to the point where it’s being closed, and the city is seeking a new site for the program.

2009 File Photo/John Ewing

For the last 27 years, the program has been housed in the West School on Douglass Street, atop a capped landfill. The building was shabby but the program strong. Now the building is unusable and the program is at risk.

Members of the City Council and School Committee have been buried by letters from current and former students as well as teachers and volunteers, all of whom describe how valuable the program has been.

This newspaper has also received many more letters than we could print, and a moving column by Jean-Baptiste Muamba that was published Saturday.

Like about 80 percent of adult education students in Portland, Muamba is an immigrant. He is a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and in his column told a classic story of the immigrant experience, one that is repeated over and over in places like Portland Adult Ed.

Muamba was an electrical engineer in his home country, but because he did not speak English, he could not find any kind of work here.

He described lining up at 4 a.m. outside the West School last winter in the hopes of being the first through the door to take a placement test for one of the limited number of seats in a beginning English class. He was surprised to find the line had already formed.

Muamba said he and many of his fellow students get more than just help learning English and earning a diploma. "(T)hose of us from troubled places in the world ... lose hope for our futures. Adult education can give it back."

The city is looking for a short-term rental while it decides where Portland Adult Education fits with its facility needs. There are plans to go to the voters with a referendum to replace the Hall School and renovate other aging elementary schools, perhaps next spring.

Portland Adult Education also should be part of those plans. This program means too much for the city and the people it serves to drift from place to place. We all benefit when everyone who wants to start over has a place to do so.


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