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Offering a helping hand along the way

WILLMAR -- Ridgewater College is convenient for Shae Johnson.

She doesn't own a vehicle, but she lives right across the road, so it's an easy walk to study on campus. Johnson, 16, is not a Ridgewater student, at least not yet, but she is working on getting her GED.

Since Sept. 2, the Adult Basic Education program in Willmar has been open for two days a week in the Academic Support Center in the college library. Jim Nicholson, the ABE co-director, is available to work with students from noon to 3 p.m. each Monday and Tuesday when school is in session.

ABE is a program of Willmar Community Education and Recreation. Any student who is older than 16 and not enrolled in another program may participate in ABE. The program is based in the Washington Learning Center.

Johnson is one of the regulars on campus, Nicholson said. She also goes to Washington Learning Center later in the week, but she said she prefers studying at the college.

"I like it better here; it's quieter and less people," Johnson said. Family members look after her 1-year-old daughter while she is studying at the college. Child care is available when she goes to Washington, but she has to find a ride to get there.

She has been working on social studies and math to prepare for taking the five tests required to get a GED. She turned in a worksheet on the Revolutionary War to Nicholson this week and continued working on one about the Civil War.

Johnson and Nicholson said she was also working on raising her reading levels.

High school didn't work for her, Johnson said. There was too much going on there, she said, and she was distracted.

"I feel like I get more done here than in regular high school," she said. She's not sure yet what she'll do after she gets her GED.

Nicholson said his office hours on campus are part of a statewide effort in the ABE community to help students make the transition to college.

"Having a site on campus gets them familiar with the campus," Nicholson said. "If we were not out here, they wouldn't have that opportunity."

Audrey VanBeck, the peer tutor coordinator, said it's good for the students to become familiar with the Academic Support Center, too. The center, located in the Ridgewater library, provides support for Ridgewater students who are struggling with their coursework.

VanBeck is also a math tutor. "A lot of people are sorry they didn't take more math," she said.

If some of the students who "make the leap" to college need assistance, they'll know where to go, she added.

The center has been helpful in giving him space and welcoming the students, Nicholson said.

At the center, "it's like a family atmosphere," VanBeck said. "The students are good about helping each other out." A treat table is stocked with crackers, cookies and hot chocolate.

Another advantage of the college setting is that it's a little quieter, Nicholson said. Washington is busy with pre-school programs and a variety of ABE activities. During the day, 40 or more ABE students could be studying at Washington.

Nicholson said he doesn't schedule formal classes for people studying for their GED. Some people start out but have to stop because of personal circumstances. They can come back when they want.

So far, he hasn't had too many people take advantage of the college setting, but it hasn't been open that long, he said.

Some of the students he's had are nursing assistants who are considering going back to school and want to brush up on their skills. Others are thinking about college "and came out to see how things were."