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From Bavaria to Blue Ridge: BRCC adult education instructor with international experience

In the back of the Blue Ridge Community College Library, on the Transylvania Campus, exists a little known launching pad, the adult-education lab. Time spent in this classroom can change a person’s life. Students who are traditional high school age learn alongside students who are grandparents. In the BRCC adult-ed lab all students share a common goal: to earn their high school diploma.

Jan Bennett, Adult Education Lab Instructor, is there to welcome new and returning students who hope to add their photos to the bulletin board of smiling graduates. Bennet brings 30 years of teaching experience to the lab; she has degrees in English, Journalism, and Reading.

Growing up in Sedalia, Missouri, Bennett, “always had really strong teachers,” so becoming a teacher “was a natural fit.”  After six years of “teaching stateside,” Bennett had a desire to see the world. She interviewed with the Department of Defense and was offered a job in Karlsruhe, Germany teaching at the Karlsruhe American Middle/High School.

Bennett’s career as a military base teacher also included time teaching in Taegu, Korea at Taegu American School, and in Bavaria, Germany at Hohenfels Middle/ High American School. Bennett taught American children whose families were in the military, as well as German or Korean students who were part of those families. The American schools were, “similar to those in the United States; the same textbooks and curriculum, but the students tended to be more well-traveled.”

Bennett adds, “No matter where you are, working with students is always interesting as they come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.”

Bennet has many memories from teaching abroad and traveling across Europe and Asia during school breaks. One unforgettable moment was watching her students graduate in the Regensburg Cathedral in Bavaria, known for its High Gothic architectural style.

After relocating to Brevard, NC, Bennet “realized, in retrospect, that I moved here because this area looks just like Bavaria, the area that I came to love.”

Now Blue Ridge students, who are building their skills to prepare for college or a career, benefit from learning alongside a world-traveled teacher. Bennett says, “Travel has shown various ways people learn, think, and react. I realized there is more than one way to learn something and try different methods because I see how things work differently in different places.”

The adult education lab is an important destination for students with the goal of high school graduation. The lab functions as an oasis. Bennett explains, “It allows a quiet place and time, a mental space free from distractions, for the students to totally focus on their studies. Students can forget the outside world for a while and just concentrate on their desire to succeed. The lab is a positive experience, and there’s always somebody there to help them if they get stuck.”

Grace Solle, Instructional Coordinator for Adult Education and Literacy, describes what it is like for Blue Ridge students to work with Bennett.  “Jan loves words more than anyone I know. She has a way of bringing life and excitement to learning in general, but I see it very specifically with reading and writing. Jan makes a very academic concept feel very relevant and understandable to students.”

Bennet believes in her students’ abilities to learn: “It takes time, effort, and motivation. It won’t happen overnight, but if a student is determined to get a high school equivalency diploma and is willing to put in the time and the effort, he or she can be successful.  Often life gets in the way, but one thing to remember is to never give up; think of it as a temporary setback, and come back more determined than ever. Believe in yourself and you can do this.”

Many students have become part of Bennet’s committed classroom community. Bennett and Solle value the Blue Ridge adult-education lab as a peaceful and productive learning environment  in which students are seen, known, and valued.  When students are signing out after a day of study, Bennett always asks, “When are you coming back?”

A world of educational experience offers a world of opportunity to students who enter the lab and keep returning to learn.

Editor’s note: This perspective originally appeared on the Blue Ridge Community College website. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

Michele Handy

Michele Handy is the Librarian and Student Success Coordinator at Blue Ridge Community College’s Transylvania Campus. She holds a Masters of Art in English from Appalachian State University and a Masters of Library and Information Science from University of North Carolina, Greensboro.