CCC Adult Education makes easy conversation

Date: Monday, 1st February 2021

Jennifer Dennis, Adult Education instructor at CCC's Fourth Street campus, leads students in an advanced English language-acquisition class at CCC.



FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Jiyoung Lee comes from South Korea, and Jose Landaverde comes from El Salvador. Kaoru Pierre comes from Japan, and Aurora Silleni comes from Italy. There’s Victor Parra from Mexico and May Henao from Colombia.


They may have come from all over the world, but they have one thing in common: They’re all taking classes with the Adult Education program at Coconino Community College to improve their English language skills.


“It’s college and career preparation,” said Jennifer Dennis, Adult Education instructor at CCC, of the class, which is an advanced English language-acquisition class. “A lot of our students have been through university in their home country.”


For instance, Landaverde has training in architectural design, Parra was an industrial engineer, Lee taught special education in Korea. Silleni is a post-doctoral researcher in vulcanology.


They were all in a recent class, via Zoom videoconferencing, to discuss phrasal verbs – like the differences between “take off, take on and take over,” or “speak up and speak out,” Dennis said. Additionally, because it was recently Martin Luther King Day, she included some topics to familiarize the students with U.S. government structure, voting rights and history.



The point is to get the students talking, conversing.


“When they first come, they’re usually timid about trying to express what they want to say,” Dennis said, adding that over time, they open up and begin to grow in their grasp of the language.


The hour-and-a-half class included some homework, Dennis said. The students were to watch a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr., and then answer questions. They were also to explore terms like, “sweeping grassroots effort” and discuss what it means.


As with all of the classes, Dennis said that the students can drop in to as many or as few as they need. The classes take place all year long, and although there is no formal start and stop dates, and no grades issued, for the classes, the students are tested after 50 hours of attendance to determine their progress. Some come for years; some drop off after getting careers.


“I think, overall, for the students, it’s a community for them,” Dennis said, adding that despite their language differences, they all have the common experience of living abroad in a country not of their birth.


Class sizes have tapered off a bit during the pandemic, Dennis added. Where classrooms would be stuffed with more than 20 students at times, the Zoom classrooms may have nine or 10 students. Dennis said the lower attendance can be attributed primarily to a lack of “digital literacy” and a fear of technology as well as some students not having access to the technology. CCC has tried to remedy that by allowing students to use campus computer labs, and one of Dennis’s students, Kaoru Pierre, was actually in her class via the Fourth Street computer lab.



Donovan Wiedmann, CCC’s Adult Education Program Manager, said that according to the Arizona Department of Education, nearly 10 percent of Coconino County’s residents 18 or older don’t have a high school diploma or an equivalency credential. Additionally, there are approximately 2,100 adults in the county who live in “linguistically isolated households.”


The need is real, and Wiedmann and all Adult Education instructors are deeply involved with organizations, locally and statewide, to address that need.


Last year, CCC Adult Education served 286 students, 208 of whom were studying for the GED tests, and 78 of whom were studying English language acquisition. The program is funded through federal and state grants from the Arizona Department of Education – Adult Education Services.


“Adult Education has worked tirelessly to provide quality services during the pandemic,” Wiedmann said. “We have shifted all instruction to a virtual format, but allow in-person services for testing, intake and registration.”


Wiedmann added that students in the program can use CCC facilities and equipment to access their education in the virtual format. Post-pandemic plans include deepening CCC Adult Education’s relationship with community partners as well as integrating more with the college to improve quality and expand services throughout Coconino County.



The advanced class is one of several classes at CCC to help students acquire skills in speaking, reading and writing English. There are also beginner and intermediate classes. CCC’s Adult Education program also focuses on helping people pass high-school equivalency tests for a GED.


All of the students in Dennis’ class found their way to northern Arizona, and they range in age from their 20s to their 70s. Lee is a school librarian on the Hopi Reservation because her husband is a church pastor there. Landaverde, who is 70, has a daughter who lives in Flagstaff, and when he retired, he moved to be near her. He works as an architectural designer here.


“It’s nice for me because I am happy to live in Flagstaff,” Landaverde said. “The people have been very nice.”


Parra works for Coconino County Public Works, and he’s working on getting strong enough English skills to begin his studies to seek a degree in civil engineering. Henao came to Flagstaff with her boyfriend, who has extended family here. She’s an economist, and she also wants to go back to school to get a master’s degree in business analytics.


“I love the students,” Dennis said. “They’re from all different countries and they bring such different perspectives.”


For more information about CCC’s Adult Education programs, visit





All Dates

  • Monday, 1st February 2021