Welcome! Read the latest issue of PROGRESS, featuring inclusive programming in Virginia. Read PROGRESS

A Conversation with Danielle Perry, Region 21’s IET Coordinator

by Kate Daly Rolander

Adult education programs around the state of Virginia are developing and implementing innovative integrated education and training (IET) programs with a range of partners across an even larger range of industries. In this issue of PROGRESS, we focus on what adult education in Region 21, the Peninsula Regional Education Program (PREP) headed by Rachel Ambrose, is doing to build strong partnerships and career pathways for their learners.

I spoke with Danielle Perry, Region 21’s IET Coordinator. They have a number of programs underway, so we’ll begin with a list of their projects, then delve deeper into the specifics of two of those projects, and end with lessons learned and ideas for going forward. As Danielle said to me on our phone call, “we’re building the plane as we’re flying it.”

Current Projects

  • The adult education program was recently written into a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant to provide high-need populations with literacy services on-site at a new workforce development center in Newport News.
  • Through an innovation grant from the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, PREP is funding ongoing intensive, two-week “Workforce Bootcamps” on a monthly rotation at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital as part of their “compensated work therapy” program. (See the VA website for more information on that program.)
  • A second innovation project is braided into a Wells Fargo grant-funded opportunity with Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) to deliver adult education services during family nights in downtown Newport News.
  • Adult education instructors are working with Thomas Nelson Community College’s ChefsGO program to provide adult education services, especially math support, to students in the classroom. (See the Thomas Nelson Community College website for more information on the ChefsGO workforce credential.)
  • Adult education teachers are also supporting academic skills and strengthening workforce preparation in collaboration with TNCC training instructors through two Credit for Prior Learning-funded programs in HVAC and C.N.A.

IET Spotlights

We’ll dive into the VA Hospital and the TNCC HVAC and C.N.A. programs to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities involved with building partnerships. These relationships have required flexible scheduling and consistent communication and collaboration, as well as innovative programming for learners in occupational training programs where they may otherwise lack much-needed support.

The VA Hospital in Hampton provides compensated work therapy, or workforce training for homeless veterans, and they have contracted with PREP to provide six days of intensive instruction over a two-week period to develop and strengthen digital and soft skills and build resumés for government and civilian jobs. The program began on October 30, 2018, and initially ran as a six-week class; however, scheduling the program in concert with veterans’ other rehabilitation appointments proved too difficult to maintain over the long-term. A two-week compromise was reached that included six intensive, full days of instruction.

The program includes the participation of a career counselor who focuses on soft skills through videos, small group activities, and one-on-one work developing resumés and interviewing skills. Adult education instructors focus heavily on reading and math skills as well as digital skills through four Northstar digital literacy certifications. Participation in the program is mandatory, and Danielle shared that many of the veterans in the program are ex-offenders and are going through therapy. The program is ongoing, meaning that once one cohort of veterans completes the two-week bootcamp, another cohort begins the following month, providing opportunities for adult education staff to continuously reflect on and improve their offerings.

The second spotlight program is with TNCC through a two-year Credit for Prior Learning grant. Currently, the Peninsula Regional Education Program is providing contextual-ized academic skill strengthening, soft skills instruction, and networking for two, two-track programs. Track 1 serves as a bridge to IET, while Track 2 follows a more complete IET model.

  • Track 1 Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and Certified Nursing Assistant (C.N.A.) classes include a week of adult education prior to the start of the occupational training. The adult education program provides soft skills training, Career Readiness Certificate (CRC) preparation, digital literacy skills preparation and testing, guest speaker visits, contextualized activities, and occupational credential exam support. Throughout the track, adult education instructors collaborate with the trades instructors to find ways to best support students.
  • Track 2 HVAC and C.N.A. classes are GED®-level classes where the adult education teachers provide GED® test preparation, CRC and digital literacy preparation and testing, and contextualized activities; a career counselor provides soft skills instruction; guest speakers introduce students to different aspects of the target industries; and they organize a reverse career fair. These classes run four days a week. Region 21 instructors continuously look ahead to see where students in the occupational training courses normally have challenges and plan to support students where they need it most. One day per week, they focus on study skills and soft skills, and they also focus on cohort building, including encouraging learners to text classmates who aren’t there.

From PREP’s many experiences, Danielle says they have learned some valuable lessons. She says, “You have to look ahead…where do you want to end up? What steps do you need to get there?” They plan with that goal in mind. In IET, employer partnerships are an important part of the end goal, and Danielle explains that the region has been researching job openings and job descriptions, sending out many emails to employers, and making follow-up phone calls for those who don’t respond. She reflects that it is important to find good partners who like what you’re doing.

Danielle finished up our conversation by summarizing that, as part of a career pathway, adult education programs can help guide learners into training, an important service even if training options are not there at that moment. We can support retention as adults move toward their long-term career goals by helping them find the right questions to ask, providing guidance and career coaching, and creating a safe space to learn and change their lives.

To learn more about what PREP is doing in IET, visit their regional website.

Kate Daly Rolander is Workforce Instructional Specialist at the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center.