Testimony of Laurie Mittenthal
Director, Workforce Investment and Social Enterprise Division (WISE)
Latin American Youth Center

Before the Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation Council of the District of Columbia

Hearing on Adult Literacy Services in the District of Columbia

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Good morning, Madam Chairwoman and members of the D.C. City Council.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at this Public Roundtable on adult literacy services.

I appear before you today in my capacity as Director of the Workforce Investment and Social Enterprise division (or WISE) at the Latin American Youth Center.

The Latin American Youth Center is a network of youth centers, charter schools, and social enterprises with a shared commitment to helping youth become successful and happy young adults.

Our anchor site in the Columbia Heights neighborhood is a community-based, multi-cultural youth and family development organization founded in the late 1960s and incorporated in 1974 as a non-profit organization.  We serve more than 4,000 young people each year, primarily from the Latino, African-American, African and Caribbean communities.

I am here today to discuss the adult literacy programs that we provide through WISE and which have received support and funding from The University of the District of Columbia – State Education Agency (SEA).

The Latin American Youth Center has provided literacy services to low-income immigrant and minority residents of the District of Columbia for more than thirty years.

During this time, we have gained broad experience and expertise in working with people for whom English is a second language.

Before I discuss our current efforts at WISE, I want to just briefly note our track record of providing GED preparation, job training and job placement services.

Over the past ten years, we have operated several successful programs that have focused on GED preparation, job readiness and training, and job placement.  These include YO, which LAYC operated between 2001-2005 as a partner with the Department of  Employment Services, and YouthBuild, which, after ten years as an LAYC program providing construction training and a GED curriculum, opened its doors last fall as a public charter school.

Through these programs, we were able to achieve very high rates of job placement and retention.  In addition, according to the GED testing office at the University of the District of Columbia, during the past three years, LAYC has had one of the highest city-wide success rates in preparing young people to pass the GED.

We used that experience to create WISE in 2005, which builds on the best practices and learnings of our previous programs.

WISE provides young people with the necessary education and skills to obtain and retain meaningful employment and to pursue post-secondary education, if they wish.

We offer a holistic program of job readiness and life skills training, job placement services, computer instruction, GED preparation, and support services.

Our focus is on helping students define and then achieve their academic and employment goals.

We work with a highly diverse population. WISE participants are between the ages of 16 and 24. All are low-income.  More than one-third speak a language other than English at home.

Through the WISE curriculum, we help our students improve their reading and math skills as assessed by Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS); gain new computer skills, such as certification in Microsoft Office; and prepare them for the GED.

I want to briefly walk through our education process – from intake to placement.  The process we follow at WISE underscores our commitment to the wraparound approach that is core to LAYC’s work.

First, a WISE case manager assesses the skills of the incoming students.  This assessment looks at educational background, employment history as well as literacy, computer and social skills.  In addition, the case manager works to identify family issues, child care needs, and other challenges that may need to be addressed for the student to succeed.

We use CASAS to assess reading and math grade levels.  We then give students a practice GED to determine whether they should begin in the pre-GED or GED class.

Each student is assigned a case manager who works individually with the student throughout his or her time in WISE.  The case manager helps to identify the specific goals the student is hoping to achieve – such as attaining a GED, getting a job or preparing for college.  The case manager and the student work together to create an Individual Service Plan – a step-by-step plan for achieving the outlined goals.

Each week, students receive eight hours of GED preparation, eight hours of job-readiness training and three hours of computer instruction.

Our job readiness component lasts eight weeks, covering practical skills, such as resume writing, cover letter writing and job interviewing, as well as broader skills such as communication, conflict resolution and goal setting.

Once students complete the eight-week curriculum, they work with our Job Placement Specialist to find a job, internship or apprenticeship.  We have a particular focus on the specialty retail sector, identified by Department of Employment Services as one of six growth sectors in the local economy.

On average, the GED preparation class takes 12 weeks for students to complete.  As part of the GED curriculum, we are using PLATO Learning, a Web-based, self-paced tool that reinforces computer skills while helping to improve abilities in core areas such as reading and math.

If a participant wishes to continue with school after passing the GED, the Job Placement Specialist will help him or her identify and apply to an appropriate post-secondary academic program.

That’s how the program works.

Currently, we are working with 32 students.  Eighty percent of our students who have taken the GED, have passed.

In the past month, we have successfully placed students at our two Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops, which are owned and operated by LAYC, and at national retailers Target and Radio Shack.

We follow up with the employers on a bi-monthly basis to determine how the student is doing at the job and what skills may need to be strengthened.  We also follow up at the three-month point, both to improve retention and to gain valuable feedback that will strengthen our future programs.

I want to thank SEA for their support of WISE’s adult literacy work.  Through their support, we are able to help people in the District of Columbia gain the education and work-readiness skills that are so important to becoming happy, successful and productive members of the community.

Again, I thank you for holding this hearing on adult literacy, an issue so critical to the economic health and vitality of the District, and for giving me the opportunity to testify before you today.

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