Adult learning labs grant 30 years of second chances |

Adult learning labs grant 30 years of second chances

Suzanne W. Kirch

Community colleges are, “an American invention, designed to give people a second chance,” according to Charles “Chick” Dassance, former interim president at Colorado Mountain College. The Adult Learning Lab in Glenwood Springs is just one way that CMC has been reinforcing this sentiment.

Brainstormed into existence 30 years ago by Karen Dunbar, Alexandra Talk and Diane Deford, CMC’s Adult Learning Lab has endeavored to adhere to the definition of community colleges, as outlined by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), which states: “Community colleges have been inclusive institutions that welcome all who desire to learn, regardless of wealth, heritage, or previous academic experience.” (

Classes offered at the Adult Learning Lab include support in reading and math skills, practice in English language communication and General Educational Development courses, which prepare students for successfully acquiring their high school equivalency diploma.

The students’ stories and backgrounds are varied: single mothers continuing their education, or men and women who are searching for new opportunities, but all of them want to redirect their lives, start new careers, find and open new doors, and grow in confidence.

Though the lab was initially focused on providing academic support, the instructors soon realized that it was about much more than this. As a result, it became a safe place between home and school. By providing a casual physical classroom and connection with other community support systems, the students are given a holistic environment in which to recognize that educational growth is not only about surviving, but thriving.

Sometimes this support comes in a financial form, and the lab provides gas or “gap” money (to buy books, pay for GED tests, etc.). In order to realize these additional goals, Deford and Dunbar once again brainstormed, this time about fundraisers, and “Spellabration” — an annual spelling bee — was born.

Now, in order to continue offering CMC students supportive classes, the Adult Learning Lab has scheduled not only its regular classes in Glenwood and Carbondale during the weekdays and evenings, but also a chance for students to focus more on math skills, join a book group, or develop English communication skills at the workplace.

Looking ahead, says Gina Waller, the Adult Learning Lab’s current program director, “Truly the best measure of success occurs when students decide to focus on their education and begin believing in their ability to shape their futures. We have watched so many students gain the confidence, courage and skills necessary to redirect their lives; this growth has, in turn, positively impacted their families and local communities.” To achieve any dream requires taking that first step forward. In the community college spirit of second chances, the Adult Learning Lab Instructors welcome the opportunity to start this journey with new students this spring.

Suzanne W. Kirch, M.A., has been teaching English for more than 10 years and credit and continuing education classes at CMC since 2011. She is currently a member of the Adult Learning Lab team in Glenwood Springs. Classes begin this week. For more information, please contact Suzanne or Gina at 947-8484.

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