One-room schoolhouses are a thing of the past, but the old Perham Area Learning Center is keeping that tradition alive with a host of adult basic education (ABE) programs.

The building on First Avenue South serves a wide range of students in everything from basic math and reading, to college placement exams, and even the U.S. Citizenship Test.

ABE Instructor Leah Hamann says ABE is much more than just earning a GED; most of the students Hamann teaches are there to learn English.

“With different factories and companies here, there are a lot of people in town where English is not their first language,” Hamann said.

Recently, Adan Noor, a Somali immigrant now working at Shearer’s Foods, was learning the names of different body parts with the help of volunteer Tim Nepheu.

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Noor has lived in Perham for five years, but started taking English classes only two months ago. He said the classes have helped him build language skills that let him talk to people.

Noor, whose wife and six kids still live in Somalia, is taking the U.S. Citizenship Test later this month. He hopes becoming a citizen will make it possible to move his family to America.

Isabel Custodio is another one of Hamann’s English learners. Custodio moved to Perham from Mexico three months ago, and started classes one month ago.

With Hamann providing a minor translation, Custodio said she enjoys the difficult parts in order to learn.

John Minge, a regular ABE volunteer, said he has fun working with the students.

“I like learning about these people,” he said of the students. “They’re just like the rest of us. They’re good-natured.”

Hamann says the ABE programs wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers.

The ABE’s flexible schedule allows students to drop in and out whenever their schedule permits, whether it’s in between raising families and going to work.

Each student also has an individualized curriculum that moves at their own pace.

“If they need help in math, that’s what we’ll work on,” Hamann said.

About 15 students are taking classes at the ABE, a number Hamann says is down because the low unemployment rate means people are going to work instead of going to class.

Hamann has taught ABE in Perham for five years, but has focused her entire career to teaching adults.

When she graduated with a degree in elementary education, Hamann was met with a tough K-12 job market, so she decided to take a job in adult basic education.

“I fell in love with it after that,” Hamann said. “Adults for the most part want to be here. You don’t have to deal with discipline, and they understand my sarcastic humor.”

Hamann says the curriculum is funded by the Minnesota Department of Education, just like any K-12 district. Eligibility is open to anyone 17 or older who is no longer enrolled in a K-12 program

Even though it’s cliche, Hamann says teaching in the program is amazing.

“They want to be here. They’re so excited to be here and to have this opportunity to learn English,” she said. “People that didn’t get a high school credential, realize they need it now and this is a place for them to come and do that.”

Adult basic education

  • What: GED, English as a second language, career planning, college entry exams, general reading and math skills/
  • Who: Adult basic education is free for anyone without a high school diploma 17 years old or older.
  • Where: The old Perham Area Learning Center building, 520 First Ave. N.

  • When: Morning, afternoon and evening classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Contact: Leah Hamann at 218-632-2341 or