Developmental education was never intended to serve all students no matter how low their skills are, but those testing at very low levels needed even more support. From that dilemma, the Adult Education Foundations Project was born. This project won the Innovation of the Year Award.

According to the nomination, prior to this intervention, the college admitted dozens of students each year who were unable to succeed in coursework because of a variety of issues. Many were misplaced in their developmental class sequence, often taking traditional developmental courses instead of Intensive English Language classes. Within the past year, developmental courses were subject to new state legislation that made curricula more challenging and accelerated, causing some students to fall behind and unable to be successful in college. This project was created to offer these students a supported transition to college coursework with free foundation courses.

Employees involved in The Adult Education Foundations Project include Rafif Abuzaghleh, education specialist in Adult Basic Education; Ashley Lindemann Aebersold, advising resource coordinator in Academic Advising; Debby Blatzer, assistant dean of Academic Advising; Dr. Yolanda Johnson-Bennett, education specialist in Adult Basic Education and New Student Orientation; Patrick Lohan, education specialist in Adult Basic Education; Lupita Medina, director of testing services; Janet Oleksy, secretary II in Adult Basic Education; Jennifer Pilarczyk, coordinator of testing services; Christian Torres Smolenets, Adult Basic Education instructor; Kate Wachtor, assistant dean of Enrollment Services; and Lauren Zajac, transition specialist in Learning Enrichment and College Readiness.

Each person had a role to make this project successful. Bennett and Smolenets focused on the curriculum. They worked on pre-developmental courses for Foundations of Math and Foundations of Language. They looked at markers for students testing below a fifth grade level and made sure they were meeting students where they were in the education spectrum. The ultimate goal was to assure these students learned the correct skills, which would help them test into a higher course.

“Everyone played a big part in this because it was a big undertaking. We’ll have to constantly reassess the curriculum and tweak some things. It was challenging but very rewarding for all of us,” Bennett said.

Zajac said she helped develop and support the intake and case management side. In collaboration with the other specialists, she helped place over 500 students in the college. “It was very exciting to be part of this award. It highlights a truly collaborative process that has greatly benefited students,” she said.

Wachtor worked with the advising and testing teams. She helped create the student flow of this pathway and sought how best to work it in with current practices and system limitations.

“We wanted staff to be able to understand and interpret the new pathway, but more importantly, we wanted to be able to communicate the changes with students in a manner that was expedient and accurate,” she explained. “The end goal is not to make students who test into the foundational pathway feel ‘othered’ but supported by the case management model created by staff.”

The program took two years to build and is now completing its first full year in motion. “It was an amazing collaborative effort between academic and student affairs. The program is flourishing as these students are getting off to a stronger start to college despite entering at a more challenging level. They are genuinely interacting with far more staff, faculty and campus resources than previous cohorts, and our staff and faculty have built a guided and integrated pathway for these students to follow,” said the nominator.

Moraine Valley has been contacted by several other institutions because the consequences of the new state legislation pose the same challenges to all Illinois community colleges – What do we do with those students who won’t be able to succeed in an abbreviated developmental pathway? By linking the Adult Education and Developmental Program resources and curricula, any college could institute this program if they have the ability to spend more time up front on their most vulnerable populations, said the nomination.

As for winning this award, individuals in the group highlighted the collaboration and are happy the team did what it set out to do.

“I thoroughly enjoyed getting to work with folks from various areas on campus. Receiving this recognition is truly an added windfall to the relationships created during the project,” Wachtor said.

“I was very pleased with this award and thought, ‘Wow, the college recognized the work and how many people got this project off the ground,’” Bennett added. “It was a big undertaking, but I would totally do it again.”