ECA Literacy Volunteers/Students on the Sideline

It’s been a long a six weeks since the students in the adult education program were sent on an extended spring break beginning March 18. Spring break turned into a shelter at home order nation wide. Since that time the adult education classes have made the transition to online courses for students, but it was not an easy transition. Of the 168 students who were enrolled in the program on March 1, only 84 have successfully made the transition to online.

It would be easy to believe that the primary challenge for students is access to technology, but that only tells part of the story. Many students who had enrolled in the adult education program to improve their education now find they are responsible for the academic achievements of their children. Whatever technology they may have had access to now needs to be used by the younger students in the household to make sure they don’t fall behind like their parents did. Parents are overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to get their children online and also helping them with the school work.

Another challenge for students may be a spouse’s or their own need to continue to work, maybe from home but most likely not. Many adult education students are those on the front lines of the essential services that must remain open so that basic needs are met like access to the grocery store, health care and other related services. Many are stressed due to their continued risk of exposure to a virus that is not yet fully understood. They must continue to work to support their own families and the rest of the community around them.

Mental health is surely a challenge to maintain under such stressful conditions. Our students are strong, but even the strongest individual in the current circumstances may suffer the effects of forced quarantine, heightened risk, increased obligations and concerns for the present as well as the future.

Technology access is also a restriction, and it is one that the adult education program has had some success in ameliorating. Chromebooks have been made available to those who need them and hot spots are on the way for internet access. It takes time, but the process is place.

So where does this leave our volunteers? Up until now, the focus has been on getting both teachers and students online, at least as many as possible. Now, as the crisis becomes normalized and some hope for relief seems to be in sight, is a great time for instructors and volunteers to begin collaborating. Volunteers are invited to reach out to instructors to see what help can now be used to support students in the online classroom. Familiarize yourself with the process if you can, and coordinate with the instructor to see how the online instruction is being implemented.

A volunteer phone call to a student could provide the encouragement needed to get online. Perhaps it would be good for a voice of caring and concern to be heard. We know students are struggling. We all are. A kind word can be a signal of hope in a challenging time. Connecting with others, even when we must remain apart, can provide encouragement to keep the goal in mind and to focus on the outcome rather than the challenges in the journey.

As a council, we’ve had our challenges, too. April 28 will be our first meeting as a group online. We’ll have a couple vacancies to fill, and there is just as much concern for the future of the adult education program amid state cuts equal to the concern for the future of students. If you would like to get involved and offer your support during this time of transition, it would be a great help. Volunteers have always been the heart of the East Central Area Literacy Council, and you really are needed.

If you would like to find out how you can get involved, perhaps with a letter to legislators, involvement on the board of directors or outreach to students, please email She’s a volunteer executive director and also the director of the adult education program. Your insights, support and ideas are sought and appreciated. Your involvement on the board is needed as a voice for students and instructors alike.

You have been patient during this time and we know you have a heart to help. Our students, instructors, staff and the board of directors may not be able to show it or say it directly, but here we can say it in simple terms, “Thank you so much”.


Executive Director, East Central Area Literacy Council Director, East Central College Adult Education and Literacy