HRDC opens new digs for students

2013-01-16T23:00:00Z 2013-01-17T00:02:25Z HRDC opens new digs for studentsBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The red, illuminated sign hanging on the wall above the snacks, drinks and dishwasher read "The Place To Be." 

And that's the hope. 

The HRDC Community Action Agency on First Avenue North opened to the public on Wednesday its new Alternative Education Center, aimed at helping low-income and at-risk teenagers and adults. 

"This place is open and inviting," said Lloyd Shangreaux, program director for HRDC. "It's meant to serve a wide variety of students."

Sunlight poured into the room Wednesday afternoon. Comfortable-looking armchairs and couches set off a rustic wood dinner table and bookshelves stuffed with novels. 

It's a far cry from "the Dungeon" — Alternative Education's old home in the basement of HRDC's past headquarters. 

The program's main teacher, David Booke, worked hard to make the room as inviting and conducive to learning as possible, Shangreaux said. 

"He did a great job making it as comfortable as could be," he said. 

But ultimately, it was still in a basement. 

Student Sue Harris, who just took her GED on Wednesday afternoon, liked the look of the new study space created for the alternative education students. But, she said, the old place wasn't that bad.

"I didn't mind the Dungeon," she said. "It was kind of quiet. For the kids, (the new center) is great. They can be more comfortable."

Harris, who's 58, ended up in the Alternative Education program after joining one of HRDC's employment training programs. She came to the community action agency hoping to learn computer skills. 

As she got started, she indicated that she had never completed high school, so the HRDC staff recommended her for the Alternative Education program.

In fact, many of the students who end up taking classes through alternative education have been referred through another HRDC program. 

Students, who have to be at least 16 to participate, are referred to alternative education through HRDC work programs, Youth Court and the Center for Children and Families Chafee Foster Care program. 

There are 13 students enrolled, and the majority of them sit well below the federal poverty line.

"We're not a typical classroom-based educational program," Shangreaux said. 

Most of the instruction is one-on-one with Booke, something Harris said made all the difference in her being able to feel prepared to take the GED.

Alternative Education started in 2009 with $9,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and now operates with a combination of Community Service Block Grants and Workforce Investment Act funding. 

Students wishing to apply — the program is free, and it covers the $55 charge to take the GED — can go online and fill out the form at hrdc7.org.

Shangreaux hopes that with the new space, more students will find their place at HRDC and the program will send more successful graduates into the workforce and into real life. 

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