Displaced? There may be a class for you at ASU- Heber.
In the spring of 2007, Karen Cooper, Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor and Counselor for ASU-HS, asked me if I would teach an eight-week English course.
The majority of the students in the class would be workers displaced from the closure of several local manufacturing facilities—the Maytag facility in Searcy, the White-Rogers plant in Batesville, and the Robert Bosch Company in Heber Springs. Many of these students would be non-traditional, ranging in age from the early 20’s into the early 60’s. I agreed to teach the class. I looked forward to working with this group because I, also, had returned to school later in life to get my M.A. in English, and I remembered my own uncertainty.
Under the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reform Act of 2002, workers who are laid off by plant closures or reductions are eligible for services through the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Division of Trade Adjustment Assistance. Through these programs, displaced workers are eligible for 104 (up to 130) weeks of full-time training if they are unable to find employment with their existing job skill set.
Since most of these displaced workers had never attended college before, ASU-Heber Springs offered a college orientation for them and requested that some of the teachers who would be teaching their courses come to orientation and discuss course descriptions and expectations.
As I walked into the classroom in the Latimer Center that night, I saw men and women of all ages nervously shuffling in their student seats, quietly talking amongst themselves, looking anxiously at each faculty and staff member as he or she strolled into the room--obviously wondering what they were getting into; obviously worried, even frightened, by this new experience.
As I would discover later, most of these new students had enjoyed their work in their respective factories; many had achieved recognition and received promotions to supervisory positions; they had families they were supporting and lifestyles they had built around their work; their co-workers were their friends and extended family.
Most of them had never planned to come to college; many of them were closer to retirement than they were to high school. All of them were concerned that they would not be able to keep up with the youth fresh out of high school who were still familiar with study habits, historical dates, English grammar, and the basic principles of algebra.
All of them were sacrificing security, friendships, time with family, and established lifestyles. With their futures depending on successful completion of certificates and degree programs, they came onto the campus of ASU-HS, and they changed the lives and perspectives of campus staff and faculty, even as they changed their own lives.
In the months that followed, our campus was pleased with not only the progress of these students but also that of even more dislocated workers who joined the student ranks. I watched as their initial anxiety changed into a growing confidence.
Many of the students struggled with one college subject or another, but they discovered that they had “the right stuff”—a combination of intelligence, strong work ethic, a sense of teamwork, and a determination to succeed. When one struggled, the group came together to provide support, tutoring one another and reviewing materials together. They continued as a team, and they earned the respect of faculty, staff, and fellow students—fresh out of high school or not.
In the April column, I shall introduce you to a few of these remarkable individuals who had the courage to set out on a new course.
Mary A. Comstock is an English instructor at ASU-Heber Springs.