South Baltimore Learning Center wins three awards from MAACCE


— The South Baltimore Learning Center (SBLC) was recognized by the Maryland Association of Adult, Community and Continuing Education (MAACCE) for “outstanding contributions and achievements in the field of adult education.”

SBLC took home three honors at MAACCE’s 2014 Maryland Annual Conference: a Student Award, the Volunteer Award and the Leadership Award.

Student Award: The Toppin Siblings

MAACCE annually presents multiple student awards: this year it had the distinction of presenting one of the awards to multiple siblings.

While attending school, the Toppin siblings – Hydeia (now age 20); Chyanne, Kyetra and Felipe (19), and Shaquan (17) – of Brooklyn, Md. were repeatedly bullied. Their mom, Dionne, subsequently switched them to homeschooling for four years.

Wanting them to have more structure, she enrolled them in SBLC in 2012. Since then, the siblings have been “diligent learners whose confidence has grown and they are eager to learn new things each week,” according to Kirstyn Mayden, SBLC’s intake & assessment specialist, who nominated them for the award.

As some of SBLC’s youngest students, the siblings attend classes on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shaquan is at the Adult Basic Education level; the triplets have moved to the Pre-GED level, and Hydeia has moved to the GED level.

Until a recent illness, they had maintained perfect attendance. “Even now, their one absence has not affected their demonstrated dedication to their goal of receiving their high school diploma,” Mayden added.

Enthusiastic to show their support for SBLC, three of the Toppin sisters volunteered to be greeters at SBLC’s 2014 fundraising gala – despite the fact it was starting just two hours after their day of classes was ending.

In reference to winning the MAACCE award, Hydeia said, “It was great to be acknowledged for getting our education.”

She wants to volunteer at a library in the near future; after earning her diploma, she plans to become a writer and attend culinary school.

Her siblings’ future career goals are as follows: Felipe wants to go into music, Chyanne wants to be a dancer and Kyetra wants to be a fashion designer. Shaquan is undecided at this time.

Volunteer Award: Andrew LaFlam

Andrew LaFlam, a clinical research coordinator at Johns Hopkins, wanted to get involved with his neighborhood and further develop his teaching and tutoring skills.

With this in mind, he began volunteering with SBLC in Fall 2011. Since then, the Federal Hill resident has dedicated a portion of his Saturdays to tutoring SBLC learners in math.

In Fall 2013, LaFlam extended his tutoring to include computer skills. Manning the computer lab, he has set up exercises that allow learners to practice some the skills needed for the new GED test and save the work to an instructor folder.

“The most rewarding thing about working at SBLC is witnessing transformations as students grasp new or forgotten concepts and become confident answering questions that are no longer intimidating,” said LaFlam, who is now age 26.

He added, “Being selected for the MAACCE volunteer award was an unexpected honor, but I wouldn’t even be in the running if it weren’t for the dedicated staff and students of the SBLC that allow me to supplement their work in the classroom every week!”

Leadership Award: Sonia Socha

For 20 years Sonia Socha has been SBLC’s executive director. Under her leadership, the non-profit has grown to be the largest community-based provider of adult literacy and career services in Baltimore City and in the State of Maryland.

Now serving over 1,000 high school dropouts yearly, SBLC is one of the few community-based organizations that can take an adult from low literacy to a diploma, and transition the learner to a job, job training or post secondary education.

Under Socha’s direction, the SBLC program and staff provide GED classes at all levels, the only National External Diploma Program in Baltimore City, computer literacy classes and career counseling. Last year, the center achieved 105 high school graduates, and it continues to be one of Baltimore’s top performing adult literacy programs.

Socha also has recruited a network of volunteers who provide one-on-one and small group tutoring to adult learners, and assist in the many fundraising activities required to finance such a successful and important community service.

Describing her as “one of the State’s leaders in advocacy for adult education programs,” Jay Willetts, an SBLC GED instructor, noted the following in her award nomination, “Sonia works tirelessly to make everyone in the arena of adult education aware of the current status of important bills and various efforts needed to promote adequate funding for adult education.”

Socha also has been a MAACCE board member for many years and currently heads its Advocacy Committee. She previously served on the Mayor’s Task Force on Adult Literacy and the Governor’s Task Force on Adult Education and co-chaired the Funding Workgroup of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) Transition Council that transferred adult education/literacy services from the Maryland State Department of Education to DLLR.

“Being recognized by my colleagues for leadership in the field of adult education, in MAACCE and at SBLC for the past 20+ years is especially rewarding and significant,” Socha said. “The word ‘tirelessly’ is very descriptive of my long hours of service that I have given to help bring the importance and need for adult education funding and services in Maryland to the forefront. “

“Adult learners work hard for their education,” she added. “It is important that the State of Maryland, local government and philanthropic entities continue to increase support for this critical area of education which helps adults achieve increased literacy skills, a diploma and, ultimately, employment and a career.