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Adults receive free GED and English education in Perham program

Free adult education — such as GED prep and English as a second language — are available for adults 17 and older.

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Heidi Kratzke helps Gabriela Amador study English.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
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PERHAM — Moving to a country without speaking its primary language or studying to earn a GED can both be difficult. However, thanks to adult courses offered in Perham through Detroit Lakes Public Community Education, this education is easily available.

In fact, Leah Hamann, an educator with the program, offers classes for GED and adult diploma prep, English as a second language, college prep, exam prep, computers and more. The available tutoring is free, and educators can usually even provide the materials and books needed for learning.

"The thing about why I love adult ed is because, for the most part, the students really want to be here, for whatever reason — whether they come from a different country or they didn't get their high school credentials," Hamann said. "(The students) are always so grateful and just happy to be here. We have a good time. We laugh, and sometimes we eat."

Of course, on top of eating and laughing also comes a lot of learning and teaching. Volunteer Heidi Kratzke originally started with the program about six months ago. Having gone to college for English, she helps teach grammar, capitalization, spelling and many different aspects of the English language.

"When I was in college, I lived in Puerto Rico for a while studying there, and I got to experience firsthand what it's like to not know the language, and it was difficult at times," Kratzke said. "But I had people who were really kind and helped me … So I just want to be able to be that kind of person, helping others who are coming here."

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(From left) Heidi Kratzke, Leah Hamann, Brenda Castellanos and Gabriela Amador stand with one another.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Brenda Castellanos, a student currently receiving tutoring to earn her GED in the adult education program, shared a story of her first job at a restaurant. At the time, the only English she knew was how to introduce herself, state her age, where she was from, the alphabet and different colors. The owner of the restaurant used to help Castellanos and others learn English during their breaks, she would set the table and teach them different words, such as "glass" or "spoon." Kratzke stated that she wants to help English learners the same way Castellanos' old boss helped her.

Castellanos is currently pursuing tutoring for her GED because she wants more career opportunities. In particular, she's hoping to become a nurse. This education she's been able to receive for free has also added to her ability to help out her third-grade niece, particularly with math.

She's not the only student with the community education program able to help the kids in her life more now, either. Gabriela Amador, a Spanish speaker, started attending tutoring to help her learn English. Attending classes to understand the language has made it a little easier to help her kids learn it too.

"(This program) will help a lot of Spanish speakers," Castellanos said. "There's a lot of people that want to learn English but don't know about it … There's something good for everybody."

If there's something you need to learn, from history to English to math, Hamann, Kratzke and other volunteers are available to help teach it.

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Brenda Castellanos practices division with the help of Leah Hamann.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

The lessons the students receive are also geared toward their current level of knowledge. When they first come in, they will take a few tests to tell the tutors what they do or don't already know. Then, after so many hours of lessons, students are given another test for the tutors to gauge what they've learned.

"The rewarding part for me is just seeing the progress that people make," Kratzke said. "I remember one time, Leah had me working with somebody who was (starting to learn) English. We were going over colors and the months of the year. I was there for, like, two hours one morning, and by the time we left, they knew all the colors and months of the year. It was so much progress made in one morning, and I was just blown away. There's definitely an eagerness to learn."

If you're interested in volunteering for the adult education program — whether that's through tutoring or any other kind of work — or attending classes, reach out to slandsem@detlakes.k12.mn.us or afish@detlakes.k12.mn.us. Students must at least 17 years old and not enrolled in high school. Leah Hamann's Perham schedule is Tuesdays 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursdays 8:30-11 a.m. and Fridays 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Her classroom is located at the old Wall and Truss office building in Perham at 80 Ninth Ave. NE.

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"(I appreciate) the light bulb moment when you know the student finally understands something," Hamann said, reflecting on what it's like to be a tutor for the program. "Their face lights up … I know there are a lot more students out there that need English or that don't have a high school credential or that want to go to college that just don't know we're here."

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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