Literacy Project spreads its wings with new Easthampton location

Thane Thomsen, an instructor with The Literacy Project, at right, teaches a high school equivalency test class in Easthampton to students Peter Morris and Sharon Beeson-Nelson. The Literacy Project has expanded to Easthampton, its sixth location in the Pioneer Valley.

Thane Thomsen, an instructor with The Literacy Project, at right, teaches a high school equivalency test class in Easthampton to students Peter Morris and Sharon Beeson-Nelson. The Literacy Project has expanded to Easthampton, its sixth location in the Pioneer Valley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Thane Thomsen, an instructor with The Literacy Project, teaches a high school equivalency test class in Easthampton to students Peter Morris and Sharon Beeson-Nelson. The Literacy Project has expanded to Easthampton, its sixth location in the Pioneer Valley.

Thane Thomsen, an instructor with The Literacy Project, teaches a high school equivalency test class in Easthampton to students Peter Morris and Sharon Beeson-Nelson. The Literacy Project has expanded to Easthampton, its sixth location in the Pioneer Valley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Thane Thomsen, an instructor with The Literacy Project, at right, teaches a high school equivalency test class in Easthampton to student Sharon Beeson-Nelson. The Literacy Project has expanded to Easthampton, its sixth location in the Pioneer Valley.

Thane Thomsen, an instructor with The Literacy Project, at right, teaches a high school equivalency test class in Easthampton to student Sharon Beeson-Nelson. The Literacy Project has expanded to Easthampton, its sixth location in the Pioneer Valley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Thane Thomsen, an instructor with The Literacy Project, at right, teaches a high school equivalency test class in Easthampton to students Peter Morris and Sharon Beeson-Nelson. The Literacy Project has expanded to Easthampton, its sixth location in the Pioneer Valley.

Thane Thomsen, an instructor with The Literacy Project, at right, teaches a high school equivalency test class in Easthampton to students Peter Morris and Sharon Beeson-Nelson. The Literacy Project has expanded to Easthampton, its sixth location in the Pioneer Valley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 01-30-2024 12:52 PM

EASTHAMPTON — After dropping out of high school, Easthampton resident Peter Morris, now 32 years old, went on to work at the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s distribution center, then Friendly’s for a couple of years, before going on disability to search for a long-term career.

“I don’t really make a lot of money anymore, and it’s just tough,” Morris said. “I’m starting to make the changes to go to school and do everything I’m supposed to do to get a job. … I’m trying to make my life better.”

Part of that journey for Morris is attending classes at The Literacy Project, a 40-year-old program that provides around 200 adults of all ages in Hampshire and Franklin counties with free basic education coursework centered on reading, writing, math and digital literacy skills. The agency recently planted roots in Easthampton, it’s sixth location in the region. The other offices are located in Ware, Northampton, Amherst, Orange and Greenfield.

The program’s ultimate goal is to prepare students to take the HiSET (High School Equivalency Test), and go to college or find a job with better pay or a job in a field that otherwise was not accessible.

Morris is aiming to pass the HiSET, attend Holyoke Community College and eventually find a job in the business field.

Another student, Sharon Beeson-Nelson, age 60, is returning to the program after taking a break since the COVID-19 lockdown.

Beeson-Nelson already passed the social studies and English tests, and is preparing to take the science, math and reading tests, with the goal of becoming a nurse.

With The Literacy Project having expanded into Easthampton, it is now holding biweekly classes at the Municipal Building, 50 Payson Ave.

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The move into Easthampton, said Executive Director Colleen Kucinski, “grew from an enthusiasm on Easthampton’s part in conjunction with an enthusiasm on our part to really begin to reach more of our community.”

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said, “The Literacy Project has been an organization that I’ve admired and has great respect in the community. … We’re really excited to have them.”

“I very purposefully invited them into City Hall to break down that barrier as part of who accesses public space,” she continued. “If you really want to look at equity and diversity and make it not something of an add-on, but really embrace problems of barriers, then agencies like The Literacy Project need to have boots on the ground in municipal buildings.”

During class, not only does Literacy Project teacher Thane Thomsen teach math, social studies, writing and other important educational skills, but he also works with students in an advising capacity to develop their academic and career planning.

“It’s a really holistic attempt to work with our students toward succeeding through education,” Kucinski said.

Because the group is so diverse in age and background, Thomsen said students often learn from one another.

“I really pay attention to what students’ interests are,” he said. “They come into the class as adults, and they bring experiences with them, so we really try to build on what people bring to the class.

“People come with all different ways to do math problems, and often with methods of trying a variety of approaches to find out what works best for people,” Thomsen continued. “As a teacher, I’m always learning.”

Enrollment for The Literacy Project is on a rolling basis. Those who are interested in signing up can learn more at literacyproject.org/classes-at-the-literacy-project.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.