Del. Ken Plum: Lifelong Learning in Fairfax County

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

In 1956, the then-appointed Fairfax County School Board appropriated $50  per month to be paid as a supplement to a school administrator to start an adult education program.

Since the schools were still racially segregated, a program for white adults was started at Annandale High School, and a program for black adults was started at Luther Jackson School. The favorite offerings at both locations were classes in sewing including the Bishop Method of Clothing Construction, as well as typing and shorthand.

The inexpensive, evening classes proved popular, and the program grew rapidly. Basic education classes for those adults who could not read and write were added as were night school classes to complete high school and to prepare for the G.E.D.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a 60th anniversary celebration of the program at the Plum Center for Lifelong Learning on Edsall Road in the eastern part of the county. I was honored several years ago when the Fairfax County School Board chose to name its first full-time adult education center for my work in adult and community education that spanned half the years of its existence.

Starting as a part-time room coordinator in the evenings when I was a half-time intern teacher from the University of Virginia, I was able for reasons too complex to explain here to become an administrator of the program in three years. As many discover in pursuing a career, my good fortune of working in a program that I loved so much was more a case of being at the right place at the right time than any deliberate planning.

As Fairfax County and its school system grew, the adult education program that became known as the adult and community education program grew not only in enrollment but in the variety of its offerings.

With the growth in the number of persons speaking English as a second language came classes in English for those speakers of other languages. Increased educational requirements in a soaring economy resulted in more enrollment in evening adult high school and in vocational education programs.

While the adult and community education program afforded tax-paying citizens an opportunity to utilize the facilities their tax dollars had built, the program at the same time provided support for the school system’s K-12 program.

Students who were unsuccessful in the regular high schools were often allowed to transfer to the adult high school program as an alternative where they were often more successful. Parents could take classes in child development and parenting in order to help their own children. Adult and Community Education (ACE) provided administrative support for after school enrichment classes in the elementary schools.

A catalog of ACE classes and programs is mailed three times a year to Fairfax County residents and is available online at Summer 2016 Catalog.

As its literature promises, “the possibilities are endless.” Endless for career and employment training, learning a new language, personal and academic enrichment. After all, as we have become aware — learning is lifelong.

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