It didn’t seem like much to ask. Rosemary Bonner* only wanted to read bedtime stories to her new baby granddaughter. However, for Bonner, the task was nearly impossible since she had only a limited formal education and could not read very well.
Her granddaughter was all the motivation Bonner needed, though, to enroll in a program sponsored by her employer. As a custodian in UGA’s Department of University Housing, Bonner was eligible to access literacy teachers and a support network so that she could learn how to read.
There are approximately 26 students each semester who consistently attend University Housing’s Adult Education Program, with more who drop in for a couple of weeks at a time. An instructor from Athens Technical College teaches classes four days a week in subject areas like English as a second language, computers, reading, math/life skills and GED preparation. Some employees who speak Spanish tutor others who want to learn to speak that language. The students also produce a newsletter called LINKS-Learning is New Knowledge and Skills-to practice and showcase their reading, writing and computer skills.
“We want our students to succeed at whatever level they desire,” says M. Keener Scott, associate director for staff development in University Housing. “We don’t impose our educational expectations on them. We just embrace their motivation and help them reach their goals. If they want to learn to read to their grandchildren, we help them do that. If they want to learn to balance their checkbook, we help them do that. If they want to develop their skills further and get their high-school equivalency degree, we help them do that too.”
The program is offered to all housing employees from maintenance and custodial staff to support and professional staff, with the latter serving as mentors and coaches.
They are allowed two hours during each 40-hour workweek to take classes in a dedicated adult education classroom on the bottom floor of Creswell Hall. This location also helps ease the burden for those who rely on public transportation because they are already on campus for work.
“The work release time just makes sense,” says Jim Day, housing director. “Helping our co-workers increase their basic skills is valuable both in their personal lives and on the job. Better educated staff often make fewer mistakes, take less time off and increase their productivity. The return on investment in these employees is increased many times. UGA is committed to lifelong learning, and the Department of University Housing is hallmarked as a continuous improvement organization where ongoing staff development is vital.”