Inquiry Project Policy Education for coordinators, volunteers, and learners in Adult Academy programs
Marie T. Cora
The purpose of my inquiry project was to help my staff (both paid and volunteer) and our learners to understand better how local and national policy affects us and our programs, and how we can influence policy and make change.
It is especially important that my paid staff (coordinators) be familiar with broad policy issues (how government works) so that they can help volunteers and learners understand that they in fact can contribute to change, and in what ways the can make a difference.
My goals for this project were to educate my coordinators about the current political issues affecting adult education; guide them in where to search for more information and resources locally and nationally; help them to develop mechanisms and activities that respond to the current political needs; and help them to conduct these same efforts with their volunteers and learners.
Given the vast directions one could go in in terms of learning about and addressing policy issues, I decided that focusing on a handful of mechanisms would likely reduce the number of possible issues to tackle; this also greatly helped to structure the issues in a more organized fashion so that people could make connections and thus make more sense out of the hundreds of policy trends affecting us today. Finally, because I am already interested in, and a bit informed about, local and national policy in adult ed, I was aware of existing activities, events, and resources that I could easily tap into and make use of -- something I highly recommend to other folks interested in incorporating the politics of adult ed into their programs and curricula.
Following, I briefly describe the mechanisms and resources that I utilized to help educate my staff about policy.
NLA (National Literacy Advocacy): The NLA is the international listserv that focuses on policy in adult education. Here, you can read the most up-to-date information on policy action, activities, players (both from political circles and from adult ed circles), as well as get connected to folks doing similar things or doing things that you would like to set in motion. This is the single best resource for policy information in adult education that exists today. To subscribe, send an email message to Majordomo@world.std.com.
VERA: The Voter Education, Registration and Action Campaign is a project sponsored by the New England Literacy Resource Center (NELRC). VERA is a (now large and growing!) group of adult educators and adult ed programs who have signed on to incorporate policy education -- particularly with the focus of getting people to register and vote responsibly and in informed ways. The idea is for those who join VERA to form a web that continually reaches out to more and more people. The project has developed and provides a packet of excellent materials for helping to learn about government, policy, and voting.
The Change Agent: Another excellent resource put out by the NELRC. The Change Agent is a quarterly newspaper that addresses a variety of policy issues including civic responsibility, economic literacy and justice issues. The paper has articles, activities, graphs, diagrams and more that are perfect for use in any literacy classroom. Meet and Greet Campaign: This project comes from Massachusetts. It is really just a one-page sheet full of different ideas for getting representatives and policy-makers educated about what WE do. It is crucial that our local politicians be aware of our programs, what are goals are, and how successful we are at educating the populace. Without the legislature, we will never make change.
School to Work: The School to Work conference in RI in May was particularly enlightening for people. School to work will undoubtedly affect the goals and methodologies of adult ed programming within the state. Information about this trend helped people to start rethinking their vision for our programs. Adult Education Day: Tuesday, May 14 this year. This event really inspired coordinators, volunteers, and learners to get more involved in making change, and proved to everyone that it is possible. The speeches motivated everyone to see that in solidarity, we can move (small mountains). Adult Ed Day is the perfect way to educate people about government, get to know our State House, meet representatives, and attend Senate and House sessions.
Expressions: The Adult Academy learner-generated newsletter. Expressions ran a special edition full of articles and letters on policy topics from learners. It is a very inspiring and powerful tool. I posted this on the NLA and got many responses from people from all over the U.S. asking for copies, inquiring about starting such a newsletter, and wanting to know if such a thing could be posted in the internet. Expressions plans to be actively involved in disseminating policy information next year.
Curriculum: Although my goals for the project were beyond what was feasible, the two months that we were all involved in the learning experience catapulted us forward with many plans for the future. All our programs will not incorporate policy education and activities for making change into the curriculum. The best part for me within this whole project was to see how excited people got learning about and participating in policy change. I half expected people to be resistive and find the subject boring or too complex -- on the contrary! The more everyone learned and did, the more motivated people became, planning for whatever is to come in local and national policy.
Finally, I just want to add the notes I took at one of our last staff meetings, in which people either reported that they had done these things, or planned to do them this fall:
Discussion of closing activities for the semester; planning meeting for directions for integrating policy into curriculum structures for next year; includes: regular dissemination of policy updates from NLA and other sources, regular reading from newspaper and other current events print materials, using materials from VERA, regular letter-writing campaigns, visits to state house, invites to legislators to visit our programs, integrating citizenship themes or civic responsibility issues into curriculum, inviting guest speakers such as new voters or political activists, registering new voters, plan projects around the November elections, hold mock elections and mock "presidential" debates, create ideal political structures, phoning/faxing legislators, setting up phone trees, possibly arranging for a New Reader Rally, Meet and Greet Campaign, or Walk a Mile activity, writing our own Adult Education Bill.
21/2/97 Attached are my final report, and the log I used throughout the inquiry. The log is interesting in that it shows the timeframe and step-by-step process -- therefore (hopefully) useful for someone attempting a similar thing.
A follow-up note to the inquiry would be that the majority of AA programs are indeed doing some work in 'civic participation education' and it takes on various forms (looking at structures of government, reading articles and discussion, finding out who people's legislators are, adult ed day, etc). In addition, 4 of my coordinators have become personally involved, attending both Adult Lit Council meetings, and Adult Education Commission meetings; one coordinator is doing her thesis work in the area of policy and its affects on the folks studying in her esol program, and in turn how the folks can get involved and affect policy.
Inquiry Project Policy Education for coordinators, volunteers, and learners in Adult Academy programs
Listing of Activities
Date Time Activity
April 3 30 minutes Email to Earnest Okwara (Deaf Lit Program); orient to education project and Adult Education Day
April 5 3 hours Inquiry Project Training
April 5 1 hour Orientation meeting with coordinators; disseminate some resources; inform of plan for involvment
April 8 30 minutes Talked with 4 volunteers about Adult Education Day and how they could get themselves and their learners involved
April 8 Signed up to participate in VERA (NE LRC Project)
April 9 30 minutes Talked to volunteers in Academy library re: policy education project and Adult Education Day
April 9 30 minutes Weekly staff meeting; updated coordinators, asked them to begin recruiting volunteers and learners for Adult Ed Day
April 9 30 minutes Read NLA listserv; minutes chose materials to dis- seminate
April 16 15 minutes x 2 Talked with volunteers about getting involved in Adult Education Day
April 17 45 minutes Read LNA listserv; chose postings to email to staff
April 19 1 hour Weekly staff meeting; updated coordinators on local and national policy; coordinators checked in on activities they are doing/planning within their programs for Adult Ed Day and responding to national agenda
April 22 1 hour 15 min Adult Education Day meeting with committee; made commitments on part of Adult Academy participants and programs
April 22 30 minutes Discussion with coordinators on how the "Policy Campaign" seems to be going within Academy programs; got good feedback: most programs are responding fully and have a good understanding of the im- portance of our involvement
April 22 1 hour Read NLA listserv; emailed staff regarding the Conference Committee on the Goodling Hold Harmless initiative; updated staff on commitments for Adult Ed Day; disseminated hard copy materials on Adult Ed Day from John O'Leary
April 22 Called RIDET re: School to Work Conference - staff wants to attend in light of probable future directions of adult education dollars and structures; staff will also attend Larry Rosenstock Forum on School to Work sponsored by Annenberg Institute on May 2
April 23 1 hour Meeting with Expressions people to discuss actions for Adult Education Day
April 25 1 hour 30 min Meeting with Judy Titzel about actions connected with the VERA campaign for RI
April 25 30 minutes Read NLA
April 26 30 minutes Email conversation with Earnest Okwara, Coordinator of Deaf Literacy Program about their actions; mostly early stages of education; staff is planning policy as integral to the curriculum for next year
April 26 1 hour Staff meeting; update from Marie from NLA; update from coordinators on actions including: attending Adult Ed Day; student involvement, student speakers; Expressions writing table at statehouse; petition for presentation to House and Senate; letter- writing to reps and for Expressions
April 29 30 minutes Read NLA; forwarded some portions via email to coordinators
April 29 15 minutes Email conversation with Earnest O.; discussion of letter-writing campaign for DLP students, and the possibility of having local legislators visit the class
April 30 15 minutes Read NLA
May 1 30 minutes Talked with volunteers about their understanding and activities they had been doing; many people are writing about what the literacy classes provide for them, and what national policy means to them in terms of its treatment of immigrants; trying to collect writings for a special policy issue of Expressions, to come out just after Adult Ed Day
May 2 2 hours Attended School to Work Forum with 3 coordinators; we have been looking at how this local policy and restructuring will affect our programs' curriculum and goals, and funding
May 3 1 hour Staff meeting; updates from Marie from NLA; updates from coordinators on School to Work forum and activities within programs; check-in about attendance and activities for Adult Ed Day
May 8 2 hours Checked in with volunteers on initiatives in their classrooms; arranged for coordinators to take part in adult ed day; arranged for a volunteer to speak at adult ed day; discussed activities via email with DLP staff on letter-writing campaign and integrating policy into the curriculum
May 9 1 hour Read NLA, disseminated pertinent information re: New Reader Rally and the importance of thanking legislators with all staff
May 13 1 hour Prepared materials, organized participants for Adult Ed Day
May 14 2 hours Adult Education Day: 4 coordinators attended, (for work several members at AA booth) of Expressions and Deaf Literacy Program also attended; maintained Adult Academy booth to disseminate information and materials, and also recruit members for Expressions and collect political writings for a special policy issue
May 15 1 hour Posted RI and AA activities to NLA listserv; read postings & disseminated
May 16 2 hours Staff meeting; discussion of closing ctivities for the semester; planning meeting for directions for integrating policy into curriculum structures for next year; includes: regular dissemination of policy updates from NLA and other sources, regular reading from newspaper and other current events print materials, using materials from VERA, regular letter- writing campaigns, visits to state house, invites to legislators to visit our programs, integrating citizenship themes or civic responsibility issues into curriculum, inviting guest speakers such as new voters or political activists, registering new voters, plan projects around the November elections, hold mock elections and mock "presidential" debates, create ideal political structures, phoning/faxing legislators, setting up phone trees, possibly arranging for a New Reader Rally, Meet and Greet Campaign, or Walk a Mile activity, writing our own Adult Education Bill. ______________________________
May 20 1 hour Read NLA; distributed materials; received feedback on my posting of "what's going on in RI" from last week
Marie Cora is Assistant Director for Adult Education at the Swearer Center for Public Service