23 Adult Learners Celebrated During Pandemic as ESL/GED Learning Shifts to Online Platforms

Venezuelan native Marbella Bolivar faced many struggles in her lifetime. She fled political upheaval in her country and joined family in the United States. She lost her financial livelihood and retirement. Now COVID-19 poses new challenges as the determined, 62-year-old adult learner continues to gain English conversation skills.

Bolivar is one of 23 students being inducted into the National Adult Education Honor Society by the Harris County Department of Education Adult Education Division. The honor is a nomination from teachers who recognize student leaders who make an impact by helping fellow students, as well as positively impacting their communities.

Traditionally honorees are brought together to a pinning ceremony which celebrates the national honor with teachers, family and friends at a ceremony at HCDE. Induction brings notoriety and written recommendations for future employment and education advancement.

Like many ceremonies, it had to be cancelled during the pandemic. (View the list of honorees.)


“The impact of COVID-19 abruptly stalled the progress that our students were making towards their goals,” HCDE Adult Education Director Stephanie Ross said. “It is very important to acknowledge the hard work that our adult learners have accomplished over the past year.”

This year, the induction roster ranges from millennials to baby boomers. Teacher nominations come from workforce, ESL and GED classes.

Bolivar misses her ESL teacher Zsa Zsa Caburao. She worries about her classmates who have lost their jobs. Her own progress in the workforce was halted as her position as a substitute teacher in Katy ISD came to an end. Now she works temporary jobs.


“I miss my teacher very much for being an excellent teacher, and I affirm this with knowledge because I am also a teacher,” Bolivar said. “I also miss the personal interaction with my classmates. For me, this interaction isn’t the same as when shared online.”

HCDE operates the largest adult learner program in the state of Texas. The shift to online learning during the coronavirus was not as difficult because many of the online platforms were already in place. Several software programs support ESL and GED learning. Teachers are in contact with their students through Zoom, phone calls and texts.

“Through innovation, distance learning and online tools many of our adult learners have become re-engaged in the program,” said Ross. “I am delighted and proud that they can gradually move forward to a sense of normalcy where education is at the forefront in spite of all that is going on in the world today.”

Adult learners struggle with the same conditions younger students must adapt to. Families have limited access to Internet. Multiple family members share computers. However, adult learners are also breadwinners and parents. Now they must teach their own children.

“We’re not just educating our adult students,” said Ross. “We are also providing them with education about resources.”

Teachers are being provided with community resources to introduce to their adult students: How do you apply for unemployment? What does homeschooling your children look like? How do you cope with mental stress? What is available through 211 community resources? How do you find COVID-19 testing?

“Teachers are opting in to get these tips and are also receiving them through emails,” said Ross. “They can also go online with us to walk through these resources.”

Carly Henderson, 19, is one of the youngest honorees this year inducted into the National Adult Education Honor Society. Her teacher Linda Patin praises her young student for reaching out to others in the class, especially since Henderson is proficient in math.

Henderson enrolled in GED class after dropping out of school to take care of her mother at age 17. After three months, she is ready to take the math and reading tests but unsure about her writing. She wants to return to class in the summer session to brush up on her writing skills but wonders what class will look like.

“I will take one step at a time,” she said.

Schedules for upcoming classes—whether they be a hybrid of in-person or distance learning platforms—will be forthcoming for the summer and fall semesters.


Teachers like Caburao are equipped with new technology and resources to help their students as they navigate through COVID-19.

“When the coronavirus started, my students were very sad and they kept asking when they could come back to class,” said the teacher. “Some of them are frustrated because they have lost their jobs.

“It was somewhat difficult to shift them to online and virtual platforms,” Caburao said. “However, HCDE is giving us support, training and the tools to provide this type of transition for the students.”

(HCDE Adult Education is the largest, no-cost adult education program in Texas, with a variety of health care and construction career training options in Harris and Liberty counties. Students may also take English as a second language classes and high school equivalency degree classes simultaneously in a traditional classroom setting or online. For more information, go to http://www.hcde-texas.org/adult-education.)


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