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The 2019 Adult Education & Literacy Conference

by Katherine Hansen

From July 10–12, the Adult Education and Literacy (AE&L) Conference will be held at the Blue Ridge Hotel and Conference Center in Roanoke. The AE&L conference mission is to combine state-funded adult education conferences, symposia, and meetings into one: one purpose, one focus, one voice to advance adult education in Virginia. The conference provides a great opportunity to engage with colleagues, network, and learn together while showcasing emerging trends and practices in the field of adult education.

The Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center (VALRC), with support from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) along with this year’s featured partner, the Virginia Literacy Foundation (VLF), is proud to offer a diverse range of learning opportunities reflecting best practices in adult education. This year’s theme is “Access, Equity, & Opportunity.”

When asked how the conference theme was determined, VALRC specialists Jeffrey Elmore and Kate Daly Rolander explained that economic disparity in Virginia is one of the most pressing issues affecting adult education today. “Along with this goes the realization that many Virginians are being shut out of the American economy, prosperity, and society as a whole because of who they are and/or where they are located,” explained Jeffrey. VALRC wanted to find a theme that would address what the majority of our program staff are facing right now so that solutions could be targeted and shared.

Kate pointed to current research which sup-ports why economic disparity is having such a profound effect on adult education. She cited the Rural Horseshoe Initiative, which demon-strates that those living in rural Virginia have a vastly different educational and occupational outlook than those who live in other areas. She also underscored research from the Eviction Lab, which shows that Virginia has five out of the top ten cities in the country with the highest eviction rates—eviction rates being a determiner of educational inequalities particularly in relation to race. In addition, she explained that, according to the Migration Policy Institute, Virginia is in the top ten states in percentage of students who are English Language Learners (ELLs) from immigrant families.


Keeping these facts in mind, this year’s AE&L Conference has been designed to help adult educators by showcasing emerging trends, offering strategies, and sharing practices from experts in the field that address the three areas of ac-cess, equity, and opportunity. Conference speakers and workshop presenters will share their creative ways to improve access to the materials and/or programs necessary for adults to gain knowledge and skills for success. They will address challenges such as those found in rural communities, or in programs where financial considerations may limit the ability to provide important resources, or in overcoming logistical barriers. Keynote speaker Judy Mortrude, who is Senior Policy Analyst with CLASP’s Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success, will speak to “Designing Access to Achieve Equity and Opportunity.” She will share ways that innovations in adult education access are increasing equity and opportunity in Virginia and across the country.


To address equity, conference speakers and workshop presenters will offer innovative ways to facilitate unbiased learning experiences for adult students. In a multilevel classroom with a range of barriers to success, it is a challenge to provide an even playing field for each learner. Our speakers and presenters will share creative ways to build all-encompassing learning activities providing students a fair and equal chance to succeed. Keynote speaker and President of the Oliver White Hill Foundation, Ramona Taylor, will give a historical and legal overview to access, equity, and opportunity as it relates to the life of Mr. Oliver White Hill. She will present excerpts from his cases, which transformed the American educational landscape and clarified that equity, access, and opportunity are part of a Constitutional legacy. With Hill’s life as a metric, Taylor will also provide insight on how to recognize opportunities and obstacles to fair and equitable access to educational and professional opportunities. Moreover, through her own personal reflections, Taylor will provide guidance on how to challenge those obstacles.


When it comes to opportunity, we all want adult learners to succeed both in our classrooms and in the future steps of their lifelong journeys. Conference speakers and workshop presenters will share how they have forged new partnerships and opened up opportunities for adult learners. They will focus on successful practices, including partnerships, that lead to adult learners’ classroom successes and the transition into secondary education or employment. Keynote speaker James Wasilewski of HaHa to Aha will utilize his 20 years of experience in improvisational comedy to guide conference participants through an interactive practice of creating opportunity for themselves and those that they serve. Participants will learn how to establish confidence and better express themselves through the crafting of a personal elevator pitch; they will participate in exercises highlighting executive presence characteristics, storytelling techniques, and nonverbal recognition and cues.

Other notable invited speakers include Anne Gibbons from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, who will present “Pressing Pause on Unconscious Bias,” and Marty Finsterbusch of VALUEUSA, who will host a panel of adult learner leaders so that participants can “Hear The Voices of Adult Learners Who Have Gone Beyond.” Amy Dalsimer with the Adult Education and Literacy Practice Group at the American Institutes for Research will speak to “Designing Integrated and Contextualized Curriculum: Lesson Plans, Teaching Strategies and Tools.” Not to be missed is Dr. William Crowder, Principal of the Advanced Career Education Center at Highland Springs, who will discuss programs offered within his school as well as business partnerships formed with employers that have resulted in building long-lasting relationships with his students. Katie Brown, Senior Federal Policy Analyst with the National Skills Coalition, will give attendees an overview of where the Higher Education Act reauthorization currently stands in Congress and will take a deep dive into proposed legislative changes that can help adult and other nontraditional students succeed at higher rates in the postsecondary education system.

In keeping with this year’s theme and due to the overwhelming number of conference presentation proposals, the number of 75-minute workshop sessions has been expanded to 70 in order to offer a diverse and equitable range of subjects. This also gives as many presenters as possible the opportunity to share their work and experience with oth-ers across the state. Back by popular demand are the well-received Think Tanks. These are dedicated opportunities at the end of each day for conference participants to network and share with others in their field (ESOL, CBLO, workforce, corrections, etc.) what was taught, shown, and learned in the workshops. It is hoped that Think Tanks will allow for new relationships to be formed and for time to innovate and apply what has been received through the conference.

Also offered this year is a pre-conference event sponsored by VATESOL (Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). VATESOL is a professional organization dedicated to promoting professional development, strengthening instruction, and supporting research opportunities at all levels for teachers and administrators of English language learning (ESL/EFL/ESOL). On Wednesday, July 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., VATESOL will offer a workshop entitled “Burnout, Trauma and Resiliency in the ESL Classroom: Strategies for Caring for Ourselves and Our Students.” The workshop will focus on specific needs in ESL classrooms, but the principles can be applied to any classroom and all are welcome to attend by selecting the workshop when registering for the conference.

Last but certainly not least, Dr. Heidi Silver-Pacuilla will open the conference with the state of adult education in Virginia. Her staff will be on hand throughout not only to speak about Virginia’s most compelling issues, but also to offer their counsel and assistance as needed. All involved are working hard to make this conference one to remember. We would like to give a shout-out to the advisory committee for volunteering their time and expertise to ensure that all areas are represented. We encourage you to register today and tell others. For more information, visit the conference website or send an email to aelconference@vcu.edu.

Katherine Hansen, M.Ed., serves as the Workforce Policy Support Specialist and AE&L Conference Coordinator for VALRC. She is a certified TESOL instructor and Project Management Professional (PMP). Katherine’s career experience bridges the academic, nonprofit, and corporate worlds in global intercultural communications, teaching/training, and program/ organizational development.