District 214 Community Education celebrates 75 years of excellence
When Arlington Heights Township High School announced its evening classes for adults in 1947, Principal LeRoy Knoeppel wrote that adult education helps "enable a person more efficiently to meet his personal needs, problems or desires" and "more effectively to participate as an intelligent functioning member of society."
As the District 214 Community Education program celebrates 75 years of classes, those basic goals have never changed.
"From its inception, our Community Education program has aimed to make people's lives better - in so many ways," says Patrick Mogge, director of Community Engagement and Outreach and Director of Community Education for District 214.
The Community Education program is one of the longest-running public high school community education programs in Illinois, with classes available to residents throughout District 214 and the area.
But the program has come a long way since its first set of courses, which included career-minded offerings like Beginning Typewriting and General Metals as well as enrichment opportunities like Music Appreciation and Women's Gym. As it did from the beginning, Community Education continues to offer courses in Foods, Crafts, Art and Clothing - as well as Ballroom Dancing - but the program and its reach have evolved dramatically.
Today there are multiple aspects of the Community Education program, which serves thousands of learners each year. First are a set of enrichment opportunities for both adults and children; more than 1,000 classes each year, ranging from health and wellness to aquatics, personal finance and the arts. There are summer camps for kids and a travel team that organizes day trips and worldwide excursions for adults.
Another aspect is the Adult Education and Family Literacy component. Nearly 40 years ago, the program began with basic literacy classes taught by volunteers. Today, supported by state and federal funding, as well as private donations, it has expanded into a variety of programs aimed at helping adults learn English, earn their GED/high school equivalency, study for career certifications, raise young children and prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Test. In fall 2022, the program had more than 1,200 people registered for classes- individuals from 62 countries on five continents.
Education is truly life changing. When people improve their English, obtain a high school diploma or become a naturalized citizen, the trajectory of their life changes. In the same way, enrichment programs, from yoga to quilting, offer opportunities to relax, recharge, or connect with others.
"Another thing I love about this program is how it uses the resources of the district; showing that the doors don't close at 3 p.m.," says Karen Oswald, community engagement supervisor. "So many people have been touched by this programming, and so many people contribute. Some District 214 classroom teachers also teach Community Education classes, and we also have many program alumni who now work in the program, using their knowledge and experience to help those who are following in their path."
Maggie Byrne, community engagement supervisor, says, "One of the amazing things about our program is that what we're willing to offer is almost limitless. We are happy to offer a class in almost anything that an instructor has a passion for, and that we have space for. And I think that is reflected in the passion on the part of our instructors, and the fun and excitement our students have."
She points to a couple of examples: Come Fly Indoors With Us, which allows model airplane enthusiasts to gather and fly their equipment, and an ongoing Polish-language class. In both cases, class participants have become gatherings of friends.
Byrne says that is perhaps the most meaningful contribution of the Community Education program: how it connects people in the community.
"For many people, their classmates and teachers become their friends. Or they take classes with us and then become volunteers or teachers themselves. Many of our teachers have been with us for years,"she says. "Those lifelong connections are so special."