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Students Speak Out Against Possible Closure Of City's Adult Learning Centers

Abigail Wilson
Students from Wichita's Chester I. Lewis Learning Center protest against its possible closure outside of the USD 259 administration building downtown.

The Wichita Public Schools Board of Education is holding a special meeting tomorrow to discuss the district’s 2017 budget. The administration is recommending that the board approve several cost-saving measures, including either closing or outsourcing all of the city’s adult learning centers.

Nacole Cole is just two classes away from earning her high school diploma. But a proposed change to the funding for the adult learning center where the 36-year-old attends classes could bring all of her hard work to a screeching halt.

Much of Cole’s childhood was spent in group homes and foster care.

“With my mom having her addiction and my dad being in prison, it’s like, I don’t have a lot of support from my family as far as being here and helping me with my education," she says.

Credit Abigail Wilson / KMUW
Nacole Cole holds her sign Tuesday during a protest outside of the USD 259 administration building in downtown Wichita. Cole attends the Chester I. Lewis Learning Center, which the district is considering closing as part of a cost-cutting measure for the district.

So, along with several other students from Wichita’s Chester I. Lewis Learning Center, she’s making sure her voice is heard. The group stood outside the USD 259 admin building in downtown Wichita Tuesday afternoon, holding neon poster boards draped in plastic wrap to protect their message from the rain.

“I only had an eighth grade education when I started. No high school credits at all," Cole says. "And I feel like it’s a huge accomplishment to have those two classes left. And I know for a fact I wouldn’t have made it without the learning centers.”

For the past few months, the USD 259 Board of Education has been working to reduce operating expenses by more than $20 million. Consolidating the district's two Metro schools is one option the board is considering in order to save roughly $785,000. The schools would both be located at Chester I. Lewis in northeast Wichita--meaning the adult learning center would be out of a home. In fact, the board is considering either stopping all of the adult education programs altogether, saving the district $587,000, or outsourcing them to a mostly online format.

Dr. Cindy McGilvrey, a teacher at Chester I. Lewis, says she doesn't know what the future holds for her adult students.

“But I know that what my students need is a combination of online and a human teacher, elbow to elbow, knee to knee with them," she says.

Nacole Cole says if Chester Lewis closes, she and her classmates will have to find other places that accommodate people who want a diploma but are too old for traditional high schools.

“I just feel like so many adults want to do things with their lives but it’s so hard when you have people feeling like your education doesn’t matter because you're an adult," Cole says.

Funding for the adult learning center at Chester Lewis doesn’t come solely from Wichita Public Schools; the program is helped by a partnership with the Simon Youth Foundation, which advocates for and gives aid to at-risk students, just like Nacole Cole. The foundation has said it will continue to voice support for the learning centers.


Follow Abigail Wilson on Twitter @AbigailKMUW.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.