JFF programs and partners help low-skilled workers gain the experience, credentials, and confidence to improve their economic opportunity. Here is one story of how a teacher's practice has become more enriched and enables him to help adult students find pathways to careers through the Accelerating Opportunity initiative.
A year ago, Craig Furtick was teaching English as a second language at Elgin Community College in Illinois when the dean of Adult Basic Education told him about Accelerating Opportunity and it s team teaching model. This national initiative to improve the results of ABE is based on the belief that postsecondary credentials are the gateway to family-supporting wages. Currently, few adults who enroll in ESL and ABE programs ever enter credit-bearing postsecondary programs, let alone earn a credential.
Craig quickly volunteered to be part of the first group of Accelerating Opportunity instructors. After teaching ESL for four years, he was ready for a new approach to the challenges of Adult Basic Education. He wasn’t sure how team teaching would work, but it sounded intriguing.
In January, Craig dove into teaching an integrated program on Computer Numerical Control, where he brings his ESL teaching skills to partner with four CNC instructors. Together, they are developing new curricula, while also learning from their peers at other colleges participating in Accelerating Opportunity. “It’s been challenging and intense,” says Craig. “But I’m enjoying this new teaching model, and I’m glad I got in on the ground level of a rewarding, exciting initiative.”
Elgin, one of eight Illinois community colleges participating in Accelerating Opportunity, uses a model called I-CAPS: the Illinois Career Advancement Pathways System. Elgin’s Accelerating Opportunity students take courses in either welding or CNC along with their ABE classes. I-CAPS includes structures that accommodate working people and modular credentials that link advances in learning to job payoffs. To motivate students further, the program “contextualizes” the ESL and ABE instruction around the content of the technical program in addition to focusing on general work readiness.
As the team’s ABE instructor, Craig regularly attends the technical skills classes, which familiarize him with the content and vocabulary his students need to know. He also teaches a support class that reviews the course content and help s students improve their reading, writing, math, and soft skills. And he has changed his instructional approach to meet the needs of a diverse group of students who are at different levels.
The Accelerating Opportunity model represents a big change for Craig. Previously, ABE instructors rarely collaborated in any way with career/technical faculty. Now, Craig and the four CNC instructors talk regularly before and after every class, and they’ve developed a strong rapport as a team. Plus, Craig sees a change in ho w his career/technical colleagues view his work: They realize they can help many more students succeed through this collaborative approach.
Being an I-CAPS instructor has changed Craig’s relationship with the students, who go through the one-year program as a group. “I get to know them better,” says Craig. “I also can focus better on providing my students with the encouragement they need to build their confidence.”
The students have developed a strong sense of camaraderie. As Craig puts it, “They do as much teaching one another as I do.”
Perhaps most important, the challenging program and the additional support that comes with being part of a group helps Accelerating Opportunity students stick with the program. And the results are clear: All of them earned As and Bs their first semester.
“What’s been really exciting is seeing how much of a difference the program makes in my students’ lives,” says Craig. “Not only does the integrated, contextualized program make instruction relevant to them, but they also get a taste of success early on.”
Craig is particularly proud of the success of one older student who had a rough background, including time in prison. The student was apprehensive when he began the Accelerating Opportunity program, but he no w has one of the highest GPAs of the group and help s challenge and motivate his fellow students. “It’s these stories that make being part of the I-CAPS model s o rewarding,” says Craig.
Accelerating Opportunity focuses on jobs, the economy, and improving opportunities for adults. This four-year, $18.5 million initiative aims to drive economic recovery for individuals and communities in five states—Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina—by substantially increasing the number of adults who earn the credentials and skills they need to get and succeed in family-sustaining jobs.