At a ceremony in late June, we honored more than 100 Portland Adult Education graduates for receiving their high school diplomas or passing a high school equivalency test. I told them how proud I was of them for persevering with their education despite many challenges they faced along the way.

I also am extremely proud to be a part of a community that understands the vital role PAE plays in Portland’s continued viability. Over half of PAE’s budget is from local revenue. I am always eager to remind my fellow Portlanders that every dollar we invest in adult education is not just a dollar invested in PAE students. It is a dollar invested in their children, in their families, and in our community.

PAE has long been an integral part of the Portland community – it has been providing educational opportunities to Portlanders since 1848. Today, PAE typically serves approximately 4,000 adults each year, in academic and ELL classes, as well as enrichment and job skills classes. About 2,000 of those students – roughly 50 percent – are immigrants.

PAE helps them improve their command of English and learn new job skills. It also helps them earn their high school diplomas if they need that credential. Some immigrants have already completed high school and college in their native countries, but need a high school diploma because they’re unable to access their educational records due to war or other catastrophic events.

Many PAE students are foreign-trained professionals – doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, lawyers and accountants. Maine has a labor shortage and the skills and experience of these new Mainers are needed to help address it.

The New Mainers Resource Center, a PAE program, focuses on this professional talent pool. It has programs like the Education Academy, launched in January, which is helping us to diversify the Portland Public Schools’ workforce by helping new Mainers trained as teachers to become licensed educators.

The NMRC also has job classes that focus on preparing students for the American workplace and that help with resume writing and interviewing. It helps students who need to have their credentials or transcripts translated or evaluated. It also recently published six licensing guides to provide information to help foreign-trained professionals understand the licensing process so they can resume their professions here in Maine.

Also, within the past two years, PAE and other adult education centers in our region have formed the Cumberland County Adult Education and Career Development Hub. The regional approach we are now engaged in recognizes that tapping into the talent potential of new Mainers is not just a Portland issue but also one that many communities can benefit from. It harnesses regional thinking about workforce development and leveraging the knowledge and skills of new immigrants to ensure we continue to be a thriving city and region in the 21st century.

PAE Executive Director Anita St. Onge says being part of the Cumberland County consortium has many benefits. “As a hub,” she said, “we can refer students to other programs and we can develop programs that complement one another and develop programs together. We also share ideas and strategies.”

Portland’s immigrants are eager to become contributing members of their new community. PAE has a long history of helping new Mainers transition into the mainstream. Its 171-year tradition of building bridges into the future for Portlanders continues strong today.

As we welcome a new wave of immigrants this summer, PAE will be a proud and proven resource to help them to integrate into our city, region, state and country.