By Anita St Onge  

I am pleased to write Portland Adult Education’s inaugural column. I would like to thank Amjambo Africa for giving us the opportunity to highlight our work and our community, and for the significant contribution that they are making.  

I arrived at Portland Adult Education (PAE) in November 2016 to serve as interim Executive Director. At the time, I had little knowledge of the depth and breadth of the work going on here. I was soon “hooked,” after discovering the warmth and commitment of the staff, students, volunteers, and community partners. Our values statement describes PAE as a community of learners who show commitment and curiosity as we work toward our goals, and during the past five years, I have seen these values in action.  

Over 2,000 immigrants from more than 90 countries come to PAE to learn English or to get a high school diploma. We have a strong ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program with classes from literacy to college preparation. Our academic programs serve over 1,000 students each semester. These students want to learn English, get a high school diploma, improve their reading, writing, or math skills, or prepare for a career or higher education.  

Over 2,000 immigrants from more than 90 countries come to PAE to learn English or to get a high school diploma.

Our workforce training programs prepare students for rewarding careers in Maine, and simultaneously provide skilled workers for the state’s businesses. In the past five years, we have focused on a number of sector-specific training programs. Together with our healthcare partners, and Cumberland County Adult Education programs, we have worked to provide opportunities for foreign-trained healthcare professionals to advance as nurses, medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, Certified Nursing Assistants, and Direct Service Professionals. Our Teller Training program, which provides an avenue for people with financial backgrounds to pursue careers with Maine’s financial institutions, was created in partnership with local banks, credit unions, and ProsperityME. Our Education Academy worked in tandem with Portland Public Schools to provide opportunities for foreign-trained teachers to get back into the classroom.  

This semester we launched the PAE Culture Club, focused on some of the different cultures represented at PAE. The club had a very successful initial presentation about the Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing on language, dance, and food. The next session will focus on Eritrea. Two more sessions are in the planning stages. 

In 2018, PAE elected its first student representative to the Portland Board of Education. This gave the student body of PAE an opportunity to learn about the work of the school board, and to bring the Adult Education voice and experience to board members and the community. Our current school board representative is Jody Diou. He is a workforce student, working to earn both the Healthcare Office and Patient Services, and Bookkeeping certificates. 

We all recognize that the last few years have been challenging. PAE went from being completely in person to completely remote and then to a combination of in-person and remote learning. Everyone adapted to our changing environment and continued to work hard to serve our community. I am personally grateful to have had the opportunity to work at Portland Adult Education, and I look forward to seeing what new exciting opportunities and programs will be available in the future.