After working together at Clark College and witnessing firsthand the ways that the educational system doesn’t serve every student and seeing that there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” type of education, Paul Vasquez and Alex Herrboldt started to formulate a dream to open a small tutoring center that specifically catered to adults who dropped out of high school.
Eventually, PAX Learning Center was formed as an educational nonprofit in 2018 to face a growing need in the community – a need that Herrboldt said was far greater than they had anticipated.
“As we continued working for the college, we witnessed countless students drop out of GED and high school credit recovery programs around the state and it left us with a desire to help those that needed us most,” Herrboldt said. “PAX was created to catch those who fall through the cracks. For the last few years of our career, we watched helplessly as enrollment in both GED and English as a Second Language classes saw a decrease in enrollment due to increased barriers in our student’s lives and the overwhelming challenges our students faced in an increasingly rigidly academic program.”
Herrboldt said that research regarding these students shows that they are ill equipped to enter such programs due to their educational traumas and require extra patience and care to break through those barriers. He said their confidence needs to be fostered and their skills developed, but this takes time – time that a system bent on results and budget constraints can’t spare.
After combining Vasquez’s classroom methods and Herrboldt’s methodology behind running a successful tutor center, PAX Learning Center was formed.
The mission of PAX Learning Center, a 501(c)(3), is to provide teachers and tutors to youth and adults to support their educational goals. PAX offers free GED classes to youth and adults. Coming this fall, Herrboldt said they will offer English as a Second Language classes to Ukrainian refugees and other non-native speakers in the community. He said they work in conjunction with community partners such as Val Ogden, WorkSource Washington and now Partners in Careers. PAX also offers a referral service to these and many other organizations for workforce/education-related matters. Herrboldt said this allows their students to find a pathway to work or further educate themselves during and post their GED attainment.
“Volunteer tutors are the heart of PAX,” Herrboldt said. “We do not view tutors as just a support factor in a student’s educational journey. We see tutors as the word was originally meant, that they are teachers. We provide tutor training and support for tutors so that they can embrace teaching and we let them have the flexibility to meet the needs of each individual student. Every tutor is trained to understand and adopt PAX’s core values, but we encourage individuality and creativity when working with our students.”
In conjunction with their Next Success partner, Herrboldt said that PAX also provides an opportunity for their graduated students to give back to the organization and their fellow peers through paid tutoring internships where they can share their knowledge and expertise with other students following in their footsteps.
Since starting PAX in 2018, Herrboldt said they have helped 373 students attain their GED and 292 students regain enough credits to receive their high school diploma. From year to year, he said they have seen great growth and surprising sustainability, even through Covid.
“In 2018, we had 100 GED recipients, which increased to 177 GED recipients in 2019,” he said. “When Covid hit in 2020, like many organizations, we lost a lot of ground and many students dropped out. But we were excited to see that we still achieved 33 GED recipients due to the launch of our online program. In 2021, we had 36 GED recipients.”
Herrboldt said they took a brief detour away from GED services to partner with Family Promise of Clark County to help them in their new learning center by providing more than 10 tutors to help 25 homeless youth in the K-12 system who were behind and failing in school.
“By the end of our six-month contract from January to June of 2021, Family Promise and PAX helped all 25 youth go from failing to passing, with one extraordinary young woman who was not on track to graduate, turning it around and graduating on time in that short period of time,” he said. “It was truly an amazing and humbling experience for everyone involved. As for 2022, re-opening our face-to-face locations has proven very beneficial and we are now re-growing each of our sites slowly but surely. We know this is a long-term process and that good word of mouth takes time to develop, but we have already seen the fruits of our commitment to our students, and more peer-to-peer referrals are enrolling all the time.”
In addition to the ESL class that PAX will launch at the end of September, the organization will also launch another program around the same time where they will teach folks referred to them from The Xchange Recovery Program that is now connected with Living Hope Church. In order to finance the reopening of in-person classes and programs at PAX, Herrboldt said the organization was awarded a $50,000 Clark County American Rescue Plan Community Grant.
“We are very excited to be teaching in person again and we are grateful to the county for awarding us this grant as well as to Living Hope Church for its partnership,” he said.
Like most other nonprofits, Herrboldt said PAX’s funding comes primarily from peer donations, business donations and grants. This will also be the organization’s second year participating in GiveMore24! and Herrboldt said one of their tutors has committed $3,000 for matched gifting this year. He said they were also very fortunate to receive a grant this year to hire a consultant to help PAX develop a five-year strategic vision and to help the organization become more financially stable. PAX is working with Westby Associates, Inc., and Herrboldt said they have helped them to deepen their mission, expand their vision and become more focused on the strategic plan they’ve created.
To learn more about PAX Learning Center and how you can contribute or volunteer, visit their website at paxlearningcenter.com.