Learning at any age through RCSD’s adult education program

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Children in our area have been back to school now for about a week. But they’re not the only ones who just went back to the classroom.

News10NBC’s Hailie Higgins spent Thursday in a free school for adults, run by the Rochester City School District.

Through the Office of Adult and Career Education Services, also called OACES, adult learners can get new technical skills, earn their general equivalency diplomas, and even learn English.

In an old factor in Upper Falls, roughly 250 adult learners head to class each day. Some of them are getting new technical skills, like Thomas General, 31. A high school graduate, General just started working towards his electrician’s certification.

“I was looking for a better opportunity,” he said. “I work a factory job, which is bare minimum, which is like $35,000 a year.”

Other technical programs include the auto shop. They cost students about $6,000 in total and grants are available. Upstairs, many learners are getting their GEDs for free at different rates based on their backgrounds.

“We have adults in their sixties who have never had formal education before,” Dr. Lia Festenstein, the director, said. “And it’s going to take someone like that much longer than a student who went to high school and then, for whatever reason, never really finished.”

The last census shows 18 percent of Rochester adults don’t have a high school diploma. Dr. Festenstein says that’s something that hurts the learners, as well as their families.

“The adults that we have are the parents of the kids in the schools that we have,” she said. “We know that an educated parent is going to be a better support for their children in school.”

One such parent is Yousra Mohammed-Ali, 33. A Syrian refugee, she’s been in OACES for a year and four months in its largest free program: English as a Second Language or ESL.

“First I come to America, and second week I come to school,” she said.

Back home, she was a nurse.

“When we come to America, first I come, no have language, no job, anything,” Mohammed-Ali.

“It’s demoralizing and it’s depressing. People really like to feel like they can express themselves and operate as an adult,” Dr. Festenstein said.

Now, Mohammed-Ali has technically topped out in classes. But she keeps coming back.

“School OACES is second to my family. I love my school really,” she said.

She wants to improve her English and become a nurse in the United States. Success isn’t always linear for most OACES students. With unconventional backgrounds – usually full of struggles – students complete the free GED and ESL programs at their own pace.

“This is a place where people get to come try again to come back at it again and we are so excited to help people restart the next phase of their life and get them moving here,” Dr. Festenstein said.

Students can enroll in classes at any time. OACES also offers summer school. More information is available here.