Community Education

By Lawrence Hardy

Khanh Le, a recent immigrant from Vietnam, was extremely quiet when he started the automotive class at Madison Park High School in Boston’s disadvantaged Roxbury neighborhood. That was understandable: The 20-something young man, who was trying to support his parents and younger brother, knew little English, let alone the technical language he would need to be an entry-level technician.

But Chris Albrizio, director of the Asian American Community Association (AACA), saw that Le had intelligence, talent, and something even AACA’s collaborative program with the Boston Public Schools couldn’t teach.

“Even though his English skills were low, you could definitely see his passion for cars,” Albrizio says.

Before long, Le’s English was improving and he was becoming more animated in class. Now he is fulfilling his dream of working with cars as a technician for a Toyota dealership in Boston. And given his gifts -- and the company’s reputation for ongoing job training -- there’s no telling where he might go from there.

Le’s is one success story in one of the nation’s most comprehensive school-district-run job training and adult education programs. Some 1,200 learners are served in Boston’s adult education programs, says Maria Harris, director of the district’s department of adult learning and community services. Le is one of 39 graduates of the automotive program, which serves about 14 students in each class, who are now working in the field.

Examples of other widely respected district-run job training and other education programs for adults can be found in places like Chicago; Portland, Ore.; and Newport, Vt., near the rural, mountainous border with Canada.

“It’s not unusual for rural schools to offer adult education,” says Robert McHaffey, director of communications for the Rural School and Community Trust, in Washington, D.C. “In many instances, they’re the only facility with the capacity in town.”

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