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A Collaborative Approach to Adult And Family Literacy in A Rural Area


Northeast Kingdom Learning Services (NEKLS)
35 Junior High Drive
Derby, Vermont 05829
Tel: 802-766-4757


The mission of the Central Orleans Family Education Center is to promote community wellbeing and family independence in a rural, low-income region not connected by public transportation.

Rationale and Background

Rural communities face significant challenges in providing adult and family literacy services. Lack of transportation severely limits people’s ability to access services and contributes to cultural and social isolation. In Orleans county of the Northeast Kingdom the population density is36.3 people per square mile. Orleans county alone represents an area if 721 square miles.

Established in 1991, NEKLS has offered a variety of adult and family literacy services throughout the remote counties of Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans in the Northeast corner of Vermont. Providing these services to those most in need has always been challenging due to the distance between communities and limited funding available to support services. The rationale for establishing the Central Orleans Family Education Center was that services needed to be provided to residents in a rural region in a way that would be cost effective for both the provider and recipient, while meeting the needs of the families from remote locations.

The data showed that families were not receiving services in the most outlying areas. The lack of available services and transportation issues posed barriers for many families to get the support they needed. Many students chose to drop out of school rather than ride a regional high school bus for three hours per day. The school drop out rate in Orleans county was 4.85% in 2003 (average rate for North Country and Lake Region High Schools in the county) in comparison to the statewide average of 3.45%. Other adults, having lived in such a remote area for years, had become afraid of anything unfamiliar and had developed agoraphobia which inhibited them from seeking the services they needed for themselves and their families. Young children often were not receiving any form of early educational instruction. In rural Vermont, where many towns still have one-room school houses, coordination of K-12 educational services differs from one school district to another.

The Central Orleans Family Education Center planning began in the fall of 2001 as a collaborative effort between the Orleans Central School District and Northeast Kingdom Learning Services to respond to these needs. Special legislation had to written to allow for this public-private partnership. Located in Barton, Vermont, the Central Orleans Family Education Center officially opened in September, 2004 offering a variety of services to support the needs of the entire family in an effort to not only provide learning opportunities for individual family members, but through this process, to diminish the high rate of high school drop outs in the community.

Description of the Practice

The Central Orleans Family Education Center is innovative in the way it crosses the traditional borders of the services offered by the Vermont Department of Education and the Vermont Agency of Human Services. The partner agencies work together to share resources to expand programming. The Center brings together a wide range of services for the benefit of the families in the area in one convenient location and provides transportation that enables adults to access them. Services at the center include:

  • Adult Education & Family Literacy programs covering GED preparation and testing, high school diploma program, basic computer instruction, resume writing, Commercial Drivers’ License preparation, and parenting classes such as Parental Involvement in children’s education and the Active Father parenting curriculums.
  • Childcare for the families participating in any of the programs at the center as well as for other community members.
  • Even Start program that encompasses early education, adult education, parenting education, and parent and child time together facilitation.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start early childhood education and family support, including home visits for qualifying families.
  • Learning For The Future Through Education (LIFE), a collaborative effort between several local agencies and St. Paul’s School that provides comprehensive family literacy services to 20 families designed to address the specific needs of each individual participant while supporting the goals set by the school district and resource agencies.
  • Migrant Even Start which includes the four Even Start components specifically for migrant families working in the area of agriculture.
  • Migrant Education Consortium offers supplemental educational support services for children between the ages of 3-21 of migrant families that are at risk of failing or below grade level.
  • Independent tutorial services contracted through the school to provide individualized instruction for students who cannot participate and thrive in a traditional classroom setting;
  • Success By Six, an initiative of the Agency of Human Services that coordinates activities for young children and their families in collaboration with early care and education programs, such as Parent Connection and Playworld.
  • Transportation to any family enrolled in a program at the Center and any children needing transportation to a community daycare program following participation in an early education program; and
  • Orleans Central Supervisory Union (school district) Support Services provide support to children, and families of school aged children through the following positions located at the Center:
    • Director of Special Services and Title I Coordinator
    • Special Services Administrative Assistant and Medicaid Clerk
    • School Psychologist for the District
    • Reading First Coordinator
    • School Nurse for the Supervisory Union
    • 21 st Century After School Grant Program

NEKLS also maintains reduced scope adult & family literacy satellite services in more remote locations. These services are provided by a Multi-Service Specialist who represents multiple programs and offers a variety of services either in people’s homes or a public location such as a library or church nearby. The Multi-Service Specialist was trained in all program areas of NEKLS in order to be able to efficiently serve the entire family according to the Even Start integrated family education mode and works in the field to recruit and transition families to center-based programs. NEKLS offers a variety of programs and services throughout the communities in the Northeast Kingdom to provide outreach and transition to the Central Orleans Family Education Center and other full service centers in the region.

The Family Center concept could be implemented in other adult education programs by forming a collaborative between school districts, service providers, and community agencies dedicated to serving the needs of pre-school, school-aged, and adult learners through a family literacy model. The concept can be replicated when those involved are willing to “think outside the box” and also sometimes to bend the rules. Funding, safety, and design elements must accommodate the multiple needs of clients from pre-school children through young families and adult education students. The overall success of the practices depends largely on the commitment of all partners to the collaborative concept for the benefit of the people the programs are designed to serve.

Impact and Effectiveness

The Central Orleans Family Education Center opened with the September 2004 school year. The projected outcomes of the Center for the first year are that

  • 25 adults will have enrolled in basic education programs.
  • 5 families will have participated in center-based Migrant Even Start and Migrant Education activities.
  • 3 employers will have referred workers for education or training services.
  • 8 adult students will have received a high school diploma or a GED through Dropout Recovery or the Adult Diploma program.
  • 10 adults will have entered a post-secondary program.
  • 5 adults will have taken technical education courses or enrolled in a technical program.
  • 20 parents with children enrolled in any center child program will have enrolled in a parenting education class.
  • 2 adults needing ESOL services will have advanced at least two levels.
  • 10 adults receiving basic education services will have enrolled in a distance education class.
  • 25% percent of the adults and families enrolled in adult education, family literacy, or early education programs will have completed at least one supervised parent/child activity or other intergenerational literacy activity. This target was initially set low and should be increased to at least 75%.
  • 5 parents referred by PATH (welfare) for enrollment will have advanced at least one adult basic education level and successfully completed contextualized learning community/school activities including completing resumes, writing letters to the editor, and preparing and participating in parent/teacher conferences.
  • All basic education and PATH referred students will have been assessed for instructional support needs and those with needs will have an individual plan for services.

In many of these categories, the center has already attained or come close to the first year’s goals in the first three months of operation. There are 22 adults enrolled in basic education programs and 11 Migrant Even Start families are enrolled with 2 families participating in center-based activities. There are currently 12 students enrolled in a diploma or equivalency program and it is anticipated that three will have received their credential by the end of November, 2004. Two adults are participating in a post-secondary program. Eight parents with enrolled children have participated in parenting activities, and 100% of adults and families enrolled in adult education, family literacy, or early education programs have completed at least one supervised parent/child activity or other intergenerational literacy activity.

A complete program evaluation following the completion of the first year will assess the overall effectiveness of the family service center. All indications are that the project will exceed all targeted outcome goals.


While the one stop approach addresses some of the challenges of making services available to families, getting students to come to the Center is still often challenging. Whether it is providing sufficient transportation, doing enough outreach or simply getting adults used to the idea of learning in groups instead of one-on-one in their homes are on going hurdles for the Family Center. It is a struggle to recruit a critical mass of students for group instruction even for a multi-level class. The Center addresses these challenges in part by offering as much programmatic flexibility as possible and by conducting aggressive, ongoing outreach that helps prospective learners see education as key to improving their lives economically and socially.

Costs and Staffing

The Central Orleans Family Education Center building is owned by Northeast Kingdom Learning Services (NEKLS) and space is leased to the various partners, most notably the school district. Many costs, such as phone, computers, custodial, snow removal, utilities, are now shared and purchased at substantial savings for the program partners. It is anticipated that all partners will realize savings in time and resources related to administration, building maintenance, etc.

The initial costs associated with the Central Orleans Family Education Center included the planning and construction of a 10,000 square foot building. NEKLS financed the actual construction through creative funding resulting in no increase in local taxes. The Nellie Mae Education Foundation funded a full time family literacy specialist, a half time administrative assistant, supplies, equipment, and part of the transportation program, including the purchase of a van.

NEKLS staff housed at the facility include the family literacy specialist, a migrant teacher, a migrant Even Start teacher, an Even Start teacher, a school support services coordinator, a building manager/supervisor, and an administrative assistant. Other staff housed at the facility include six Orleans county early childhood program teachers, one 21 st Century coordinator, a Reading First Coordinator, four speech and language specialists, two school psychologists, two special education specialists, two daycare providers, four Head Start teachers, two lunch personnel, two nurses, and two janitors.

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