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Under new administration, Adult Basic Education program launches at NTC

Traci Pederson, an Adult Basic Education instructor, works with Kristopher Eng within the new classroom for Bemidji's ABE program at Northwest Technical College. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Adult Basic Education in Bemidji has a new home, a new provider and, soon, a new staff.

Bemidji Area Schools opted this spring to discontinue its in-house ABE services, instead contracting with the Northwest Service Cooperative to administer the program, a change that took effect July 1.

"We see ourselves as really a workforce entity," said Kirsten Fuglseth, the ABE coordinator

for the Northwest Service Cooperative. "Our job is to get people into college or into work. That's why people want to graduate; that's why you want to improve your skills."

The core ABE offerings include basic skills enhancement and services for tutoring, obtaining a GED and learning English as a second language.

A growing area of emphasis is workforce preparation. In Bemidji, for example, there is the FastTRAC program through which participants receive free college credit and education for a specific industry. A FastTRAC for health care was offered in 2012, and 12 students this summer graduated from the first FastTRAC centered on construction trades.

Graduates obtain a short-term certificate with which they can seek full-time employment.

"This is an up-and-coming thing," said Virginia Deeds, the team leader for Rural MN CEP, a regional workforce center. "The state -- the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development -- is really looking at more career-pathway type projects."

The program is a collaboration between Rural MN CEP, Northwest Technical College and ABE. Funding for the courses is provided by DEED.

"Statewide, ABE in Minnesota is moving in this direction of partnering with our workforce agencies and our workforce-training agencies to try to help people get a short-term certificate and get them employable," Fuglseth said.

CEP is now working with the recent graduates to assist them in updating their resumes and applying for jobs. Participants may also choose to continue their educations and further their skill-development.

"They can go out to work if they want to, come back in and get more training, then go back to work again," Fuglseth said. "That's really how the world's going to work in the future."

A second FastTRAC on construction trades will be offered this fall. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or to obtain an application should call the workforce center at 333-8200.

Yet, while workforce training is a growth area, ABE continues dedicated to performing its traditional services, such as one-on-one tutoring and preparing participants to obtain their GED.

Fuglseth is in the process now of hiring up to two teachers for the Bemidji ABE program who would teach courses and provide assistance to participants. In the meantime, an ABE educator from Warroad is filling those roles.

"Our teachers have to have such a breadth of knowledge over so many areas," Fuglseth said. "They are all specialize in their own areas and are all K-12 Minnesota licensed educators. ... and in this world you really have to have a breadth of knowledge in all things -- math, reading, all of those literacy areas, speaking, listening, writing -- so it's a different kind of job."

ABE, a year-round program now located within NTC, is open this summer from 8:30 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and those hours will be expanded this fall once the traditional school year begins.

Now that ABE is located at the college, Fuglseth said that will strengthen the collaboration with NTC. The college, for example, tests its students upon entry to determine where he or she would be placed within their coursework.

"One of the roles ABE can play is to help students who place lower on those ... test scores, to have them come in here and brush up," Fuglseth said.

The Northwest Service Cooperative, headquartered in Thief River Falls, works with governments and school districts throughout the 12 counties in northwest Minnesota by providing a range of services. Among them is ABE, now delivered to 28 school districts throughout the region.

"The school district of Bemidji is a member of the service cooperative for other pieces of the puzzle, so it was a natural fit for them to also join the ABE consortium," Fuglseth said. "We have a good track record of being able to do this work."