Teacher Shawn Maloughney chips away at student needs like a sculptor carving one success story at a time in his Adult Basic Education classroom.
A staff of one, Maloughney teaches across the curriculum: math, chemistry, reading and English. Certified in special ed, the 10-year teacher meets the needs of wildly diverse students ranging from age 16 to 65 who are recent high school drop-outs or older, nontraditional students with life experience.
He helps 123 students earn their High School Equivalency Test (HiSET), formerly called the General Education Diploma (GED), at the Butte High Career Center, 1050 S. Montana St.
Sensitive to student issues, Maloughney plays the role of counselor and cheerleader as well as teacher.
“Some of our students have had a difficult time with school,” he said. “It’s hard to get them here either because they haven’t had the support at home. Or it’s not beneficial for them to get an education.”
The 123 students are enrolled for a variety of reasons: to take math and English assessments, earn their HiSET, do prep work to qualify for the HISET and brush up on core skills for college, said Linda Baker, ABE administrative assistant and gatekeeper of student demographics.
Maloughney said the ingrained Butte culture often dictates that minors find a job as soon as possible while in high school or to drop out to work.
But returning to the classroom is often difficult for some who realize they need to upgrade their skills in order to land a better-paying job.
“I’m trying to show them that their education matters and that they’re worth something because a lot of them feel they can’t learn,” added Maloughney. “They lack self-confidence.”
Many of the younger students have a history of missing class, then they fall behind academically.
Yet, Maloughney makes quiet inroads one student, one lesson, one class, one day at a time.
“It takes a long time to build a rapport with them and to help build their self-esteem and confidence,” he added.
The transition isn’t always smooth and consistent, depending on the student’s commitment level.
First, Maloughney gives a pre-test to assess the student’s skill level before assigning them appropriate lessons. He knows exactly which skill sets need work — or if reviews will do the trick.
He gives real-life math problems that are meaningful to the student.
For instance, a student who works at a fast-food restaurant gets lessons in currency.
“I can make them understand how decisions can be used in their life,” he said.
It’s been two years since Erin Goosey, 20, graduated from Butte High. He’s now enrolled in ABE to upgrade his language, reading and math skills.
“If anybody would want to get away to reeducate themselves, then come here,” said Goosey, a carpentry apprentice for his father. Eventually, he wants to take college classes for carpentry.
Meanwhile, he’s found a home in Maloughney’s classroom, where he feels supported, welcome and confident about his future.
Terry Farlow, 52, is a nontraditional student studying for the HiSET after debilitating arthritis forced her to quit her 30-year career as a waitress at local restaurants. Her eventual goal is to earn a two-year degree in accounting at Highlands.
With the help of Montana Vocational Rehabilitation, which provides support for her disability, Farlow starting taking ABE classes to jump-start her new career goals.
“I loved waiting tables and I loved working with people, young people, especially,” said Farlow. “It was perfectly fine until I got ill.”
Maloughney, Farlow said, has a knack for finding solutions to myriad student needs, which change regularly:
“Shawn’s awesome,” said Farlow. “If he doesn’t know something, he’ll find it out.”
About one-third of ABE students are nontraditional; that is, returnees to school after several years in the work force and/or raising children.
“They’re goal-oriented,” said Baker, who screens students as they walk in the door. “They just do it.”
Farlow, however, said the ABE program was a lifesaver after she experienced ageism and tough competition from overly qualified applicants as she job-hunted.
“It didn’t really affect me until I started applying for jobs,” she said. “I don’t look my age, “but it was somewhat of a stigma.”
For students like her, ABE can set a faltering career back on track.
Yet Maloughney said it’s a bit dubious to many Butte-ites where the ABE program is and who runs it.
“We’ve kind of been incognito for so long,” said Baker.
Meanwhile, tucked into the west corner of the former Webster Garfield building, Maloughney lasers in on immediate student needs while lifting their hopes for their future.
“There are a lot of people out there who can use our services,” said Maloughney. “We’re here to serve.”
Contact Birkenbuel at Renata.Birkenbuel@mtstandard.com or 406-596-5512.