The Key to Community program supported both the civic and academic goals of the adult education and literacy partners.
Many of the site coordinators saw Key to Community as integrally supporting their curriculum Ü rather than as an election season extra-curricular activity.
Some of the adult educators indicated that the Key to Community program directly supported the content and/or basic conceptual skills in their existing curriculum. For example, one of the instructors noted that the forum on jobs touched on several topics they had studied in class. She thought the forum was helpful because "students get more into discussion about government" than just reading the material. A colleague of hers noted that the forum helped bring the material "out of the realm of what they had studied into real life discussion."
"One student who was voting for the first time came to me asking questions about the candidates and ballot measures, wanting to know was such-in-such true...it's great to see her develop her critical thinking skills and learn that her opinion is worth expressing." - Willows Coordinator
"I learned that you have to pay real good attention to what they say because sometimes it's not what you expect." - Sacramento student after learning about the different political parties
"It's important for people to talk before they take action so their opinions can actually have a reason." - Berkeley student
"[Learners] need trainings that are accessible and material that is easy to read and understand. This material needs to become a permanent part of our programs' collection, not just a special project." - San Diego Literacy Coordinator
Others expressed that Key to Community provided an important and useful supplement to the core curriculum. As an example, another one of the instructors in Sacramento explained that "these kids are a real high risk population...their lives are so riddled, their lives are right out of the 6 o'clock news...To get out of these situations, they have to have confidence or knowledge and some guidance. If they don't have these things, they can be trapped. To break out of their reality is easier said than done. Sometimes they have to leave school but then they'll come back and we're here for them. Anything we can do to help them..." She felt that the Key to Community Project is a perfect example of the type of "enrichment" that can help combat the ignorance and the lack of confidence that keeps these students trapped.
At the Metropolitan Adult Education Program in San Jose, the Key to Community forum and voting workshop were offered as a combined session with a break between the two parts. About thirty students, predominantly ESL, attended on an optional basis. When almost all of the students returned after the break, one of their instructors was impressed. "They must be getting a lot out of this. We usually lose half on an optional thing." A colleague of hers said, "The session brought people alive. They learned a lot."
Some of the program leaders expressed that the peer presenters were a major part of the Key to Community program's appeal. The director of the Solano County Library Literacy Program is working on developing a Learner Council, a leadership/support group for the library literacy program learners. She noted that the workshop presenters provided a role model, creating a sense of increased confidence for the learners in her program: "If they can do it, so can I."
"There is a need for other low level or ESL learners to participate in educating their peers."
- Willows Coordinator
Involvement and educational attainment
There appeared to be a two-way relationship between students' educational progress and the factors that increase interest in civic participation. As discussed earlier, increased education was related to an increased likelihood of community involvement. And, for many of the adult school students interviewed in this study, their school was their major source of information. As an example, a 21 year old woman is not currently involved because she has not heard about "anything going on. Most of the time I'm working and going to school and that's where I'm starting to learn that people are getting involved and realizing I want to get involved."
At the same time, some of the students expressed that their experience with Key to Community and other forms of civic involvement enhanced their interest in school. As a result of attending of the Key to Community workshop, one woman in Berkeley said "I learned that I should go back and get my GED. It would make me feel better about myself...if I go back to school, I'll be able to help in the classroom. Now I don't feel I have enough education to do that."
A 17 year old at Baldwin Park is now working as a teacher's assistant, "getting credit and getting experience." It appeared that the Key to Community experience was one of the factors that helped to focus him on where to channel his energies and helped him connect with others about the things that interest him.
Also at Baldwin Park, the African American teen who spoke up for the first time at the issues discussion has had more positive experiences at school this year. He said "I started to care about school. Last year I didn't care about school. Now I want to go to college and get a diploma and experience more things in the world."
Even though Key to Community was a new program for each location, all expressed a desire to continue the program and many want to build on it. The administrator at Rancho Santiago said it was "a tremendous experience" for her students and "I'd invite you back tomorrow."
The director at Berkeley Reads indicated that the Key to Community program fits with her goals of "learners having a good time, getting them to come out, and building skills." She plans to do some more small groups with mini-issues discussions with writing as a follow-up activity.
An important goal of the Key to Community project and its sponsors is to provide adult education organizations and literacy programs with enough training to continue the program on their own. Along these lines, an administrator at Rancho Santiago said she would include both aspects of the Key to Community curriculum Ü How to Vote and How to Be Heard and Make a Difference Ü in their teacher training next year.