From “FVTC program a new path to restarting a troubled life” — Mike Bartelt decided it was time for a change. A big one.

After dropping out of school at 16, struggling with a longtime alcohol addiction, an attempted suicide and two stints in prison — the most recent ending in October for his fifth OWI — the Appleton man said he was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

“I need to make something out of my life because I have a daughter and three grandkids,” said Bartelt, 50, a recovering alcoholic. “I’ve been a loser all my life and I’ve got to change. No one’s going to change it for me.”

Bartelt may not be able to create a new beginning to his life, but he’s taking a shot at a better ending thanks in part to a new program at the Grand Chute-based Fox Valley Technical College that helps Adult Basic Education (ABE) students by breaking down barriers that exist outside of education.

Bartelt is working on his GED, and on May 15 will be certified as a transport trailer service technician through FVTC’s 18-week program. He has been recruited by Master Fleet, and has been working second shift there for more than six weeks while finishing out classes.

After living most recently at the COTS men’s shelter in Appleton, Bartelt has moved into his own apartment in Neenah that’s close to his job.

“That’s what I get for asking for help,” he said with a laugh.

Bartelt’s pathway to success was made possible by a Barriers grant from the J.J. Keller Foundation that was awarded to FVTC last fall. The foundation was looking for an out-of-the-box idea to support with a $46,000 grant for a pilot cycle.

“We brainstormed, and after talking, we thought, we can pay for tuition but what about the things that prevent students from getting to school like clothing, haircuts and hygiene products,” said Chuck Wachter, FVTC client reporting and grants specialist and a member of the ABE leadership team.

Or simply having enough gas in the car to make the trek to class.

“We look at it as there is no barrier except your motivation,” said Wachter, who carries and answers the “barriers” cell phone 24/7.

The program fits well with the J.J. Keller Foundation’s mission to serve economically and academically disadvantaged students.

“It is designed to provide (students) with the skills necessary to gain and maintain employment that provides a life-sustaining wage,” Keller Foundation executive director Mary Harp-Jirschele said.

Bartelt received grants to pay for school, but needed funding for the tools required in the transport trailer program as well as other needs. That’s when he learned he was eligible for a Barriers grant, which provided more than just funding.

“Normally ABE students are kind of on their own,” Wachter said. “By grouping them together we’ve seen them grow such a tremendous bond with one another and they are using each other to overcome barriers. It just blew up and it was amazing. It’s not even the money that we had to put towards it. It’s the money and the attention and putting this group together.”

Participants in the program also are required to pay it forward by mentoring the next group of students and volunteering at area nonprofits. Bartelt volunteers at Loaves & Fishes of the Fox Valley through his church, Trinity Lutheran in Appleton.

The pay-it-forward philosophy is one of the most compelling reasons the Keller Foundation backed the Barriers program.

“Students have taken it upon themselves to volunteer at local agencies, which not only allows them to give back to the community, but to gain self-confidence and self-empowerment in the process,” Harp-Jirschele said.

Wachter, who has learned how to make dollars stretch, knew a new set of tools for Bartelt would retail for about $6,000, but “one way or another we were getting Mike these tools,” he said. “We get him through this education and his only barrier is the tools? We’re going to power through this one.”

Wachter bought tools that were going up for auction at FVTC for $200. It was about 75 percent of what Bartelt needed. The rest was supplemented through the Barriers grant.

“The money saved can now go back to other students,” said Wachter, who’s also lined up a deep discount at Kohl’s for students in need of work clothing and a dentist to offer discounted exams. Aerotech, a staffing agency in Appleton, has agreed to interview each student and offer individual feedback.

“The whole goal is to get them working and doing things on their own,” Wachter said.

Based on the success of the Barriers program, the Keller Foundation has agreed to a $45,000 grant for the second cycle.

“The results of the first year of the program was evidence that our investment in the second year of the program was not only warranted but critical to success in the long run,” Harp-Jirschele said.

It’s literally changed Bartelt’s life.

“From the first day of class moving forward he just kept accelerating and doing a lot bigger and better things,” said Nathan Krepline, Bartelt’s instructor in FVTC’s diesel technology program. “The way we have the classes set up here is it’s all stepping stones so that way the students would be able to build their confidence and build their level of success here.

“Mike has taken full advantage of that. … Everybody that is connected with this story sees the same thing. If he didn’t come to the college, where would he be? What would he have done?”

When Bartelt applied for the job at Master Fleet, he naturally asked to use Krepline as a reference.

“They never called me,” Krepline said. “I never even talked to the employer and (Mike) thought I did all this magical behind-the-scenes work. And I didn’t.”

From “LTC-Manitowoc gateway for high school diplomas, associate degrees” — MANITOWOC — Until three weeks ago Steve Senovich’s three adult children didn’t know their father had dropped out of Mishicot High School after 11th grade.

“Now, that I’m going back to school they’re happy for me,” said Senovich, 52, who works in shipping for ThermoFisher Scientific in Two Rivers.

He has 34 years of seniority — laid off just one day in his career — but figures when the company’s steel plant shuts down by year-end his job at the downtown wood plant may be in jeopardy.

“These decimals and fractions some of them I can catch on pretty quick but other parts I can get confused,” said Senovich, in the learning lab at Lakeshore Technical College-Manitowoc, as he studies for his HSED (High School Equivalency Diploma).

Senovich and several hundred other LTC-Manitowoc students may earn dozens of different professional certificates or even associate degrees.

They may never have to leave Manitowoc for the primary campus in Cleveland, studying with instructors and other adult learners in the classrooms at the Manitowoc Job Center, 3733 Dewey St., which LTC has used since 1997.


From “Wisconsin Technical Colleges receive $200,000 from Accelerating Opportunity” — Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College is one of the 16 Wisconsin Technical Colleges that has been awarded a $200,000 grant from several national foundations seeking to transform the way underprepared individuals get access to adult education. According to a press release, the grant is part of the Accelerating Opportunity, a Breaking Through Initiative project to redesign adult basic education and postsecondary programs to integrate basic skills with practical, occupational training required in today’s job market.

Accelerating Opportunity, managed by Boston-based Jobs for the Future (JFF), is working with 10 other states that have been selected to develop plans for this initiative. The release says five of the states will be selected to receive additional grants of $1.6 million each in November to implement their plans over a three-year period. The end goal is enhancing education delivery for adult learners so more individuals can achieve their career aspirations.

“Building from our previous work with Breaking Through, states will get the opportunity to identify the barriers to success for their residents and design a plan that will address the unique needs of their workforce and communities,” Maria Flynn, JFF vice-president said in the press release.

“This grant opportunity will allow the colleges and their workforce development partners to expand innovative career pathway instruction,” Dan Clancy, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System said in the release. “Career pathways create a more reliable pipeline of skilled workers for Wisconsin employers and give more workers a realistic way to obtain higher-skill, higher-wage jobs.”

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From Community College Spotlight: “The new adult ed: Basic skills plus job skills” — Jobs for the Future‘s Accelerating Opportunity has awarded grants to 11 states to transform adult education by integrating basic skills and job training.

Over 26 million adults lack a high school diploma, but less than 10 percent are enrolled in adult basic education programs. Many who try adult ed quit after a semester or two without earning any credential.

“The number of adults without skills and credentials beyond high school is a national crisis threatening our economic recovery,” says Marlene B. Seltzer, president of JFF. “At the same time, employers are having difficulty finding qualified workers to fill skilled positions that command a higher salary.”

Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin will receive $200,000 grants to support the redesign effort. In the second phase, five states will receive implementation grants of $1.6 million.

The initiative, which will involve nearly 40 community colleges and 18,000 adult learners,  builds on JFF’s Breaking Through, as well as Washington State’s I-BEST program.

Funders include the Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations. The National Council on Workforce Education, National College Transition Network, and the Washington State Board of Community & Technical Colleges will partner with JFF on the project.

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