WERACE, an acronym for Western Connecticut Regional Adult and Continuing Education, a regional program offering adult education services to residents of seven central-northern Fairfield County towns, provides almost all of its state-mandated services to eligible attendees free of charge. Covering residents of the towns of Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, Redding and Ridgefield, WERACE, headquartered at 10 Crosby Street in Danbury, is proud to offer several no-charge educational services to those 17 and older, provided they can produce a valid form of identification and, if needed, gain parent or guardian approval.
WERACE supplies a number of services: the free Citizenship Program, providing classroom instruction to foreign-born individuals seeking to obtain United States citizenship; the free, federally funded educational and vocational program, the Danbury Career Achievement Program (DCAP) Out of School Youth Program, offering vocational training and extended education opportunities to those ages 17 to 24; GED exams—including exam accommodations for those with disabilities—which are free for those under the age of 21 and $13 for those 21 and over (the fee is waived for veterans), as well as free GED preparatory classes; the free Credit Diploma Program, educating students for the obtainment of a high school diploma; the free, online learning program, Continuing Education; the Family Literacy Program, offering young parents ages 17 to 21 “access to the training and support they need to create a literate home environment, and enhance the academic achievement of themselves and their children”; and the English as a Second Language Program (ESL), which offers morning classes at Danbury’s First Congregational Church (164 Deer Hill Avenue, close to City Hall) and evening classes at Danbury High School (34 Clapboard Ridge Road), providing a remedial education in spoken and written English to those with limited English language skills. They also maintain Danbury’s College and Career Resource Center at 2 Crosby Street, down the road from their main office.
Both their ESL program and various Continuing Adult Education (CAE) programs are increasingly popular, growing steadily in both student attendance and graduation rate in recent years.
“Our program has grown in every possible, conceivable way,” said Terence Cunningham, WERACE’s Director of Adult and Continuing Education, who has been involved with adult education in the city for the past five years. “As far as graduation of students [is concerned], my first year here we had around in the 20s—like 28—students, I believe. Last year we had about 56 graduates. So, each year we’ve grown, and we’re expecting… to have over 60 this semester. That’s our goal: to increase.”
Cunningham, who spent many years as a guidance counselor and previously worked in the Connecticut, Maryland and New York educational systems before coming to Danbury and taking on the job of Regional Director at WERACE, describes WERACE as a comprehensive regional program, “fed” by a consortium of nearby towns, school districts and local programs and activities.
“My philosophy behind this is that I want all our students to graduate from our program with a plan of action, not just come here to get a high school diploma or a GED. When you walk out of our doors, I want you to either have an acceptance to a two-year college, have some type of post-graduate training program that you’re involved in, maybe an acceptance to a four-year college, or a job, or [a job in] the military,” he said. “Something in your hand, when you walk across that stage and you shake my hand, so that I know that I prepared you not just to be a graduate but prepared you for life beyond high school or beyond our program.”
Drite Bojke, a Danbury resident and CAE student said she “loves” the CAE program, including the Credit Diploma Program of which she’s a part.
“It’s the best thing I ever did for myself, other than having my two children,” she said.
Bojke, who has been studying for roughly the past year and a half to receive her high school diploma, says that the CDP has taught her “a lot,” and has made her more confident in herself and more confident for her children’s future.
Pulled out of school early “due to tradition” and because of the birth of her kids, Bojke, Waterbury born and raised, is delighted to be able to return to an educational environment.
“It’s the best thing. It’s such an awesome feeling. I love doing this now… more than I did when I was 15 years old,” she said. “The teachers put so much time and effort into the students: They’re so kind and understanding… Everybody’s happy when they come here… It’s fun.”
Bojke says that, post-graduation, she would potentially be interested in working in, or studying to work in, the medical field, possibly as a nurse or surgical technician.
“I took a pause and [now] I’m back,” she said. “It’s never too late.
Despite any financial shortfalls, WERACE’s ESL program has benefited, and continues to benefit, a number of Danburyans with the prospect of learning to better read, speak and write English. Providing three levels of English instruction—Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced—WERACE’s ESL program’s classes “help students to improve their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills so they are better able to find employment, become involved with their children’s schooling, and make use of community resources,” as per their website.
The ESL Coordinator, Cecilia Veiga, could not be reached for comment.
You can find out more about WERACE and their services, including their CAE programs and ESL program, by visiting their website at sites.google.com/a/danbury.k12.ct.us/werace/.