skip to main content
Heartland mobile logo

Beyond the classroom, Adult Ed program gives students real-world experience

September 23, 2016

An adult education program at Heartland is giving students a comprehensive view of work and school.

Complete and Connect provides 16 to 24 year olds the opportunity to earn their high school equivalency while working on job and college readiness. Now in its second year at the College, Complete and Connect has seen much success and hopes other students can take advantage of the opportunities it has to offer.

The program works in partnership with Career Link, a non-profit organization that connects individuals with employment opportunities through training and services. Heartland provides the classroom aspect while Career Link provides jobs.

An Ambitious Curriculum

According to Peggy Hardy, developer of Complete and Connect, students enrolled in the program focus on reading, math, science, social studies and the Constitution. They have twice as many classroom hours as traditional adult education students. Couple that vigor with smaller class size and students often find themselves ready to take the high school equivalency exam sooner than what’s typical.

Student Nolan Gilliam experienced success from the program first hand. At the start, he felt he didn’t really need that much help. “I walked into it being pretty stubborn,” he said. “When I sat down and actually did the work, I had to take a step back. The program helped me realize that it’s ok to be wrong and helped me focus on making improvements.”

Gaining Work Experience

Outside the classroom, those who choose to participate in the program’s employment opportunities work 29 hours a week for $9 an hour. The wage is not paid by the employer, but rather by Career Link through federal funding.

Shelly Purchis, career planner for Career Link, works with students to place them in a job based on an initial assessment. “We talk about their interests and any prior experience they might have,” she explained. “A majority do not have any work experience so our goal is more of a mentorship. We want employers to teach them soft skills and be willing to work with them closely. Eventually, we hope students end up with full-time work or pursue a college degree.”

A Strong Support System

In addition to job experience, another major benefit of the program is having a close-knit community.

“Unlike traditional adult education classes where there are a wide age range of students, Complete and Connect participants are with their own peer group. It makes them feel more like a family and they get to be good friends outside of class,” said Hardy.

She also added that having those close relationships provides an accountability factor. “If someone is missing class, the other students will call them and make sure they come back.”

That type of support might be one of the most important factors when it comes to successful completion of the program. “There are some really great students with high potential out there who just need a little extra boost,” said Purchis. “Some would sit back and do nothing because they don’t have a support system in place. This program encourages them and pushes them into a productive direction. They support each other and help one another through.”

More Information

Complete and Connect is a free program. Those interested in participating can contact Heartland’s Adult Education department at 309-268-8180 or email Enrollment is based on age, residency and placement testing.

Businesses and organizations interested in getting involved with the program can contact Shelly Purchis at  

Written by: Becky Gropp