Skills for the 21st Century

Adult Literacy Center Offers Second Chances

As a high school senior in New Orleans in the mid-90s, Louis Moore seemed to be on the right path. He was passionate about his involvement with the school’s drill team, and he was just four credits away from graduating. But like many teenagers, Moore was susceptible to peer pressure, and that influence convinced him to drop out of school-- just shy of receiving his diploma.

“I was enticed away from school and planned I’d catch up on it later. I thought I could easily go back. That was 15 years ago,” lamented Moore.

In 2009, a cafeteria job opening the Medard H. Nelson Charter School, an elementary school in New Orleans, spurred Moore to set foot in a school for the first time in years. But when he accepted the job, he never dreamed it would lead to the chance for a ‘do over’ and allow him to correct the mistake he had made so many years before.

Nelson Elementary is part of the Capital One-New Beginnings Charter School Network, which Capital One provided a $1 million grant to help establish in 2006. The charter school network offers a seamless pre-kindergarten through high school learning community.

Through a partnership with the Capital One Foundation, two schools in the charter network serving low-income neighborhoods, Nelson Elementary and Gentilly Terrace Elementary, started an adult literacy center to help provide educational opportunities for parents of students and other adults in the neighborhood.

Tonja Jackson, the Adult Literacy Program coordinator for Nelson Elementary, first presented the opportunity to Moore to participate in the center. Moore eagerly enrolled and began learning alongside the parents of many of the students whose lunch he served. The program has been a major turning point for Moore. “I knew I couldn’t really make it in life without a high school diploma or GED, so that’s why I signed up,” he explained. “I had to strive for more.”

I was enticed away from school and planned I’d catch up on it later. I thought I could easily go back. That was 15 years ago. — Louis Moore

The program is designed for individuals with a broad range of skill levels and educational backgrounds, and caters primarily to those who didn’t finish high school. “Our oldest student was 65, and her goal was to learn how to read the Bible. She had to start with learning how to write the letter A,” recalled Jackson.

In the center’s third year, 60 adult students are registered and taking advantage of the flexible learning schedule. The program is offered at both schools, Monday through Thursday, and students can register at any time. To accommodate parents’ busy schedules, classes are offered year round in the morning, afternoon or evening, and participants can attend any of those sessions.

“I started the program last year, and it’s been helping me a lot with my education—learning math and science—the basic things you need. I only need a few more credits to graduate,” Moore said.

Students are evaluated individually and given work that is tailored to their education level and they can work at their own pace. “A primary teacher and two AmeriCorps members help with tutoring during class time. We keep a 3-to-1 or 2-to-1 ratio in class,” explained Jackson.

Since its launch in 2009, all of the adult literacy center participants have increased at least two grade levels and two students have attained their GED, thanks in part to the assistance they received in the program and Capital One’s support.

Moore is very thankful for the program and support he’s received, but attaining his GED is just the first step in his plan. “I always wanted to work on things and I was always curious about fixing different machines. I want to continue my education. My goal is to become an engineer.”