Center for Community Engagement

45 Minutes: Community Leaders Trade Places with Adult Students in a Required Essay

Join community leaders, educators, adult students, and Amherst students on Thursday, April 8 from 7-9 p.m. in the Alumni House for 45 Minutes. Minutes is a fun and interactive fundraising event celebrating the ongoing five-year collaboration between Amherst College and the Holyoke Community College Adult Learning Center, a program which allows students without high school degrees to continue their education. The public is cordially invited to attend.

45 Minutes is named for the amount of time allotted for the essay part of the test required to earn a GED (General Educational Development) the state’s alternative to a traditional high school diploma. For the event, five community leaders who write as part of their professions have agreed to put their time and literary skills on the line. 

45 Minutes writers are:

  • William Messner, President, Holyoke Community College
  • Tom Mechem, Massachusetts GED Chief State Examiner
  • Attorney William C. “Bill” Newman, director of the Western Massachusetts Office of the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Judith Frank, associate professor of English, Amherst College
  • Jeanette DeForge, reporter for The Republican newspaper

These volunteers will produce an essay under the same rules, constraints, and guidelines that test-takers face during the GED. Finishing just before the event begins, the writers will read their work and discuss their experiences with the audience.

Students from the HCC/ALC will then read their own essays about their experiences as adult learners. “None of us can ever capture our students’ desire to return to school as well as our students themselves can,” notes HCC/ALC Program Coordinator Aliza Ansell. “This event will level the playing field and showcase the work of our students.”

Amherst College students who tutor at HCC/ALC will also share their essays about working with adult learners.

“I’m totally nervous, but it’s fair enough,” says essay volunteer Judith Frank, a novelist who teaches writing at Amherst College. “People have to take these exams, and they take enormous risk doing so. It seems like such a small risk for me to take in comparison.”

“I think we’ll find out that when we sit down in front of a blank piece of paper, we’re all the same,” says essayist Tom Mechem, who heads Massachusetts’ GED exam program. Mechem agreed to make the trek from Boston because he sees the opportunity to participate as “uniquely fun.” The event highlights the fact that “the public should not take the GED as just a piece of paper,” he says. “The diploma is extremely valuable.”

Master of ceremonies for 45 Minutes is David Gadaire, executive director of Holyoke’s CareerPoint. Gadaire will facilitate a lively discussion among the professional and adult-student writers, and the audience

Copies of Inside Out, a compilation of writing by HCC/ALC students and their Amherst College tutors, will be available for a donation.

Funds raised by donation during the second part of the 45 Minutes event will go to support two crucial components of the HCC/ALC program: counseling and Fast-Track Math teaching for those students who have already passed the communications portion of the GED test.

“This event will educate the audience and participants about the often hidden realities about adults in our urban communities, as well as illuminate the triumphs in a city that faces up to 25 percent illiteracy,” says HCC/ALC Program Coordinator Ansell.

About adult literacy in Holyoke:
Holyoke has a demonstrated need for adult education services. Of the population ages 25 years and older, 9.7 percent has less than a 9th grade education, and another 12.2 percent has between a 9th and 12th grade education, but has no high school diploma (Census Population Estimates, 2005-2007). Almost 40 percent of Holyoke’s citizens ages 5 and above speak Spanish at home, and 15.1 percent of them are classified as speaking English “less than very well.”  

HCC/ALC serves 40 students with four different courses: Basic literacy, Pre-GED, GED, and Fast Track Math. Of the GED and Fast Track Math students who took the GED, the passage rate was a respectable 50%. At the midpoint of this year, HCC/ALC students have already exceeded last year’s passage rate.

Contact: Aliza Ansell
cell: 978-505-3922