The University Record, March 14, 1994

Building Services’ classes playing to rave reviews

By Rebecca A. Doyle

They talk excitedly in groups of two or three, pencils and erasers flying, comparing answers. Juice boxes and snack packages adorn desktops. Most are dressed in jeans and work clothes. Their teacher sits in front of the class, reading materials and answering an occasional question.

It’s not the way any of them remember high school math classes.

They are the 22 students enrolled in a math class sponsored by the Plant Department’s Building Services unit and taught through the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ adult education program. The class meets for two hours each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon in the Frieze Building.

The students are there because they want to prepare themselves for a different job, earn a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or simply because they want to understand something they didn’t quite master in high school.

Moving at their own pace, under no pressure to finish work at home, and without fear of being embarrassed when asking a question, all of them find it a much less intimidating setting than their high school classes were.

“I need to better my math skills,” Marston Jones says. “I’ve been away from school for a while and I want to go into masonry—I know I’ll need more math to be able to do that.” Jones is a custodian at Kresge Medical Research Building II. He has been taking the classes since they were first offered through Building Services last fall.

“It’s not as demanding as high school,” he says. “Here, it is based on your own pace. There is no pressure to be as fast as everybody else. And if there is something you don’t understand, you can ask another student or the teacher.”

Jones says he also is thinking about taking courses at Washtenaw Community College or computing classes through the Building Services staff development program as soon as they are available.

The staff development program was initiated by Nathan Norman, manager of Building Services, who started similar programs at other universities.

“Ninety-five percent of our people already have high school diplomas,” he notes. “A large number have a college degree or at least some years of college education.

“We made this opportunity available because it is something employees asked for in a survey.”

Increased regulations have made a basic education necessary for any job, Norman says. Custodial staff need to be able to read and understand labels and instructions for handling of hazardous wastes, for instance, that “sometimes are beyond the comprehension of even college graduates.”

But even more important to Norman is the personal and professional development and individual fulfillment staff members gain from the classes and other training. It is so important that he has made it possible for custodial and managerial staff to take the four hours required for class during their normal work schedule.

“Because we are in the education business at this institution, it is incumbent on us to help our people further develop themselves,” Norman says. “We make sure they have the time available to them. And it has not cost us a dime. Our production levels have increased to the point that we have even been able to hire eight more people. We have expanded and taken up new spaces and held our own through some really bad weather this winter.”

Norman’s commitment to his staff led to the appointment of Bernadette Waters as staff development associate for Building Services. Waters coordinates the classes in basic skills, math and English that are now under way, and set up basic computer classes that are scheduled to begin this month.

Edna Van Horn, a custodian in Angell Hall, is happy for the opportunity to learn—an opportunity she probably wouldn’t have if it were not offered through Building Services. Van Horn, who has been a custodian for five years at the U-M, wants to go farther.

“I want to get my GED,” she says. “Maybe I could get a better job, one where I can work with computers. That’s my goal, to learn computers, and I already have my name on the list for that class.”

Basic Math I, Basic Math II, Basic English and the GED program also are open to other employees at the Univer-sity. For more information, call the Adult Education Office of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, 994-2302.