ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Julie Harber, the new director of the Marion County Learning Center in Hillsboro, says she likes positive attitudes.
And she doesn’t want to know previous histories about her students before she meets them.
“I like to be able to take people as they come through the door and say, ‘You’re just as capable as the next person at completing this school,'” she said.
“I think that’s one of the best things I bring to this job.”
As director, she offers high-school-diploma completion programs to students 18 and older and other computer-based-technology learning opportunities to individuals of all ages.
Harber, 44, began her first day on the job Aug. 1 and joins one other staff member, Reg Matz, who works as a paraprofessional at the center.
Her husband, Michael, is a truck driver for Countryside Feed, and the couple lives with their blended family in Hillsboro.
Stepdaughter Miranda Harber is 17, stepson Dustin Harber is 15, and son Nathan Crocker is 13.
Her list of educational credentials begins with graduation from high school in the Chicago area in 1976.
She attended Moody Bible Institute in downtown Chicago for three years and eventually enrolled at Wichita State University. She earned her undergraduate degree in 1991 from WSU-with a major in linguistics and a minor in Spanish.
“Now I’m working on my master’s degree and have finished my secondary-education certification at WSU,” Harber said.
“So I’m secondary certified in Spanish, and I’m working on my master’s in curriculum and instruction. And hopefully, I’ll finish that within the next year.”
Previous work experience includes teaching English as a second language in Wichita, and advising international students and teaching Spanish at Tabor College.
Most recently, she finished teaching three years of Spanish at Hillsboro Middle School.
The hours at the learning center are 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Harber’s work schedule is flexible, but she said she anticipates continuing to mann the center in the mornings and into the afternoon, at which time Matz will come in and take over and work into the evening hours.
“But sometimes, I’ll be here through the evenings as well, just depending on how many students we have and what their needs are,” Harber said.
The learning center operates in cooperation with the Educational Services and Staff Development Association of Central Kansas.
“ESSDACK is a private (non-profit) organization that works with school districts,” Harber said.
Students age 18 and older who are lacking a high-school diploma and missed the opportunity to graduate with their class can enroll at the learning center to complete the needed course work.
The cost of the diploma program depends on the individual case but is often free, Harber said.
“We have their transcripts analyzed. The high-school counselor will usually look at their transcripts and note what credits they need.”
Students can work at their own pace in the learning center to complete their individualized programs on the computers.
“When they finish the courses here, we send the credit record back to the high school, and they just put it on the student’s transcript,” Harber said.
“If the student wants to, they can walk through graduation that year with the class.”
Harber said ESSDACK has done a good job providing all learning centers with quality material needed to complete the course work.
The center also offers a variety of programs, such as Computer Based Technology learning systems and computer courses for students who are home schooled.
CBT is interactive online training to learn how to use business and educational software. The self-paced modules can be completed on a home personal computer or at the learning center.
And for the parents who teach their children at home and need some help in a particular subject, a separate computer area is set up at the center so they can bring their children in to complete required course work.
“Yesterday, a mom came in and said, ‘My son and I work good on every subject except math, and we butt heads on that,'” Harber said.
“We have quite a few home-school students who come and make use of our computers.”
Looking into the future, she said she would like to offer an adult Spanish-conversation class.
“More and more, we run into people in our community who speak Spanish, and it’s a useful language,” Harber said.
“And if our community ever has a need for English as a second language, that’s something I’d like to be involved in, too.”
She also said she plans to promote the value of the CBT program for adults in the area.
“There are a lot of people who feel shy about using the computer,” Harber said. “And this is one of those things you don’t have to feel embarrassed about-you can repeat each section if you want to.”
When not working at the center, Harber said her leisure time includes hobbies such as singing, restoring homes and traveling.
“I love music,” she said. “My husband and I play music together. I play keyboard, and he sings and plays guitar-and he’s a phenomenal drummer.”
The two are spending a lot of energy “fixing up” their house in Hillsboro and two other houses in Eureka, she said.
And decorating the front window of the learning center are her souvenirs, such as a safari hat and a wooden mask, brought back from vacation trips to places like Africa and Mexico.
Harber said she’s looking forward to all the aspects of her job-working with students of all ages, doing administrative work, meeting new people and getting to know the various communities.
“And I’m amazed at the commitment and the level of maturity of some of these kids who are making mature choices,” she said.
“A student came in yesterday and said, ‘Well, I think I’ve finally grown up, and I know I need this-I want to make my life better.’
Maybe her students have full-time jobs or a baby to take care of, but Harber said they come in ready to learn.
“Just the enthusiasm of the kids coming through the door makes me feel good.”