Giving Adults An Opportunity to Learn at the Barber National Institute

Recently, I gave a presentation to our board of directors on our Adult Basic Education (ABE) program. The board was so interested in learning about the program that I wanted to share with my readers, as well! As the only special needs program of its kind in Pennsylvania, our ABE program offers essential and basic skill development for adults 18 and older with intellectual challenges and learning disabilities. Because the program is grant funded through the PA Department of Education, students are able to attend at no cost to them.

Listening Station

Personally, I believe that what makes the program so successful is its individualized approach to meeting each student’s vocational, social, professional and/or educational goals. After enrolling, teachers and coordinators in ABE work with a student to provide orientation, counseling and assessment services that help determine the appropriate level and type of instruction that will most benefit the student. The math and reading curriculums used in the classroom offer a variety of levels to not only begin at the right level but also to help the student continue to develop his or her skills.

This includes a literacy program, which focuses on helping students learn to read. Additionally, ABE helps adult learners become more successful in the workplace by collaborating with job trainers and supervisors.

The classroom is run as a centers-based environment; teachers set up “centers” around the classroom, each one focusing on a different component of that day’s lesson. For example, on a “Reading day” the centers might be: fluency, comprehension, spelling, technology, and a reading skill. This one-on-one learning helps to ensure that the student is fully successful.

Geoff Weather.JPG

Technology is also widely used in lessons via online educational programs as well as iPads, which help to expand and maintain educational skills.


When it fits in with a lesson unit, ABE will frequently ask members of the community to come in and present an informal lesson on the subject. Visitors have included a local weather forecaster presenting on weather and seasons, and a credit union representative discussing budget and finance.


Meet the Students!



Walter is in his early 80s and originally from Mississippi. When he first came to the ABE program in June 2015, he was lacking any type of formal education. He enrolled because he wanted to be able to write his granddaughter a letter.  Using ABE’s assessment tools they determined he was at a Fluency level 3.5 and a Comprehension level 3. By June 2017, Walter had risen to a Fluency  level 4.5 and a Comprehension level 7!! Walter not only achieved his goal of writing his granddaughter a letter, but also got his first cell phone, learned how to use a calculator and a computer, and successfully completed the softball umpire exam and his umpire registration!





Chris, who is in his early 20s, became part of the ABE program during the 2015-2016 school year. At that time, he had a comprehension level 4; in a little over a year, Chris was learning at comprehension level 6! Not only did Chris make significant academic gains he has also joined the work force and is now an employee of Giant Eagle.




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