BAIE STE. ANNE – After 33 years of teaching you would think that Gemma Theriault would be enjoying a long, relaxing retirement. But, that’s not what this life-long educator had in mind.
Theriault is an educator with Miramichi Adult Learning Inc. (MALI) who has hired her so that people in the Baie Ste. Anne area are now able to upgrade their education something they might not otherwise have the option to do.
“Working with adults is really, really a good experience,” Theriault said.
“They want to graduate, they want to have their diploma.”
MALI is a non-profit organization that has partnered with the Department of Post Secondary Education Training and Labour, Regional Adult Learning Coordinator, Ann Morrissy to offer adult literacy courses to students wanting to obtain their GED (General Educational Development) by offering a series of programs tailored to meet the needs of the students. The program also oversees the Community Access Centres covering most of Northumberland County and Bathurst.
MALI just began offering courses in Baie Ste. Anne last year at École Régionale de Baie Ste. Anne, the very school where Theriault spent her tenure teaching. This fall the classes moved to the Baie Ste. Anne Fire Hall.
Theriault had retired in 2001 but continued to supply teach. Then, she was asked by MALI last year to teach the course and now they have a full compliment of eight students. Theriault is seeing some of these students for the second time since a few of them were in her classes when she was teaching children.
There’s even a waiting list for students wanting to get into the class.
Since many of the students work at the local fish plant, MALI is offering the courses around their schedule so that they can work and pursue their education in the off-season. So, they ran for four months before stopping so the students could work and they resumed classes in October.
The course runs five days a week for six hours and the students study French, math, social studies and science.
Theriault is hoping her first class will be ready to write the five exams necessary to obtain their GED in April and see MALI’s first class from Baie Ste. Anne graduate.
The fact that Theriault, a well-known member of the community and teacher, is offering the course is what drew many of the students to the curriculum.
Student Mona Theriault says her instructor’s patience and understanding is helping her succeed.
“My God, she’s perfect.”
“She knows everything,” Mona said noting that her instructor often shows them little tricks to help understand tough material.
“You’re more comfortable. You know that if you have trouble she’s going to help you. It’s not like a stranger that you’re shy to ask (for help),” Mona said.
“At first I found it was really hard,” Mona said noting that she didn’t remember a lot of the material. But, as time went on she picked it up.
“I find when you’re an adult you’re more interested and you learn faster because you really want to learn it,” she said.
“Now you really want to do it so you work harder.”
Mona quit school originally thinking she didn’t need it to succeed only to discover throughout the years that is hard to get a good paying job without a high school equivalency.
Theriault said many of her students are like Mona. Some of them haven’t been in school for 25 years having left for many reasons, like they didn’t want to be in a classroom. But, they’ve matured and their drive to learn is making them work hard.
Theriault has noticed a difference from her time in public education to adult education.
“It (is) a hard-working group,” she said.
Mona said she always wanted to get her GED but it was a long drive to Miramichi everyday. So when the opportunity arose to do it in her own community, she jumped at it. Once she passes her GED testing she’s hoping to pursue other training to find a job in the medical field.
Theriault said if the class wasn’t offered in Baie Ste. Anne that many of the students wouldn’t be able to pursue their GED due to lack of transportation.
“Transportation is a problem for some of them. Being down here it’s easier for them to come to class,” Theriault said.
And, most, like Mona, plan to keep going after they receive their GED.
“They want to take a course and work,” Theriault said adding that many of her students want to end the cycle of seasonal work to pursue full-time work.
Morrissy said they began offering the classes because of the demand from the Baie St. Anne community.
“Our department and the directors of MALI have made a conscientious decision to cover the whole region,” Morrissy said.
We want to help adults in the Miramichi region get ahead, Morrissy added.
Now that the Community Access Centres are administered by MALI, something that only happened in 2008, students will have an even greater access to information to compliment their literacy and comprehension skills.
Morrissy also noted that many of the Baie Ste. Anne residents have a mix of French and English in their backgrounds.
So, having their GED along with some bilingualism status could help them prosper.
Morrissy said she is pleased the community is recognizing this opportunity and are taking advantage of it.
Right now, MALI is offering three classes in French, one in Baie Ste Anne and two in Rogersville.
Bill Fraser, MLA for Miramichi – Bay du Vin, fully supports the programs, believing they are helping the community.
“It’s great for the people of Baie Ste Anne to be able to take training in their own community. They don’t have to travel and (it’s) being held in the local fire department hall.”
“It’s certainly going to help people benefit in that area because there’s a lot of people that don’t have transportation to be able to come to Miramichi. And, they want to be able to take it in their own language as well,” Fraser said.
Theriault doesn’t regret choosing to continue helping others instead of basking in the sun during her retirement.
“I’m glad that I did it to help them out. They thank me all the time.”
Educator teaching adults that were once her students as children
Fri Mar 6 2009