Sadly, more than 80,000 adults living in Baltimore City don’t have a high school diploma, according to the South Baltimore Learning Center (SBLC), a community-based nonprofit that provides functional literacy, workforce development, life-skills training and career preparation services to adults in the Baltimore area.
For people between the ages of 25 and 64 without a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is 21.9 percent, according to SBLC officials who also note that a chronic lack of education and literacy skills perpetuates Baltimore's poverty problem.
Noted by her peers for her passionate efforts to further adult literacy, SBLC’s executive director, Tanya Terrell wants to call more attention to the battle, as Adult Education and Family Literacy Week commences on Monday, September 24, 2018.
SBLC serves more than 900 adults each year, ranging in age from 18-80.
“Everyone has a fundamental right to an education,” said Terrell, a 21-year resident of Baltimore who, prior to coming to SBLC worked in workforce development at Associated Black Charities.
“In my opinion, when we look at the scale and pervasiveness of illiteracy in Baltimore and/or high percentage of people who never completed their secondary education, the problem is not with the individuals,” she said. “The problem is with a broader system that needs to be addressed and where we all need to lend our advocacy and support. We spend a lot of time convincing our learners that they are talented and capable people because they lack confidence in their ability to succeed. No one should have to live life feeling that way.”
Terrell notes that barriers to employment include low literacy levels, lack of basic math skills, difficulty using technology and no high school diploma. SBLC helps adults overcome these barriers by offering classes at the Regional Skills Training Center in Park Heights, to help individuals gain a work credential in manufacturing, construction and nursing in order to obtain a job.
“The scale of this particular challenge is so great that I wanted to understand the issue further and attack this particular barrier head on. That’s why I am at SBLC,” Terrell said.
SBLC officials also understand that returning to school for any adult is challenging. The responsibilities for the adults in their program are the same that we all experience every day, Terrell said, noting that it includes balancing work priorities and family obligations are the most significant.
“With our adult learners, other barriers, such as transportation, lack of child care or chronic health issues also affect retention and progression in the program,” she said.
“SBLC recognizes these barriers. Though our mission is focused primarily on education, we have relationships with a variety of partners who can offer resources and additional support to help address some of the barriers that many of our adults learners face.”
With a stellar team and exceptional instructional staff, SBLC has found success. At SBLC, students may pursue GED preparation classes or the National External Diploma Program. When a student completes either program, they receive a Maryland State High School Diploma.
“We also work hard to have values that are ‘learner-centered.’ It is important that the academic environment at SBLC be void of judgment. The goal of staff is to ensure that learners feel supported. I think this is pivotal to our success,” Terrell said.
“We are meeting our goals, but our challenge is making sure that everyone knows our work, worth and impact. We also want people to consider adult education as a critical component of the educational system in the city and state. K-12 children will be much better prepared when their parents and other adults in their lives have experienced academic success.”
Two years ago SBLC chose to rename and rebrand itself. “SBLC: Learning Works” was selected as a way to highlight learners’ accomplishments and to provide the motivation behind the newfound core message.
“This rebranding allows SBLC to showcase and celebrate how we not only educate adult learners but also empower them to succeed by securing better jobs, enhancing their life skills and personal lives, and contributing to their communities,” she said.
For more information about SBLC, visit http://southbaltimorelearns.org/