Seward County Community College
LIBERAL, Kan. — For more than two decades, newcomers to Liberal have found friendship and support in the corner-lot center for adult education programs offered by Seward County Community College. Bill and Virginia Colvin donated the building to the college when High Plains Pizza Corporation built a new office headquarters, and SCCC quickly converted it to serve as a site for English as a Second Language classes and GED preparation and testing.
Around 500 students filter through the mazelike classrooms in the small, stucco building each semester — but that will change in August, when the SCCC Adult Learning Center moves to 530 N. Washington Ave. The new digs have a long history in serving the community — the address is the former Epworth Hospital, which in turn converted to host the first iteration of SCCC in 1969. Over the years, Epworth became a dorm, and finally the hub for Allied Health programs at the college.
Now, it will once more provide a first taste of college to adult learners. It’s an exciting shift, said SCCC Director of Adult Education Dr. Maria Fe Laguitan.
“Wow, just the restrooms alone are a positive thing,” she said with a smile. “We will be gaining triple, maybe even four times the space for everything we offer.” Laguitan said the timing is perfect in the context of COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
“Following the COVID safety procedures — masks, hand-washing, and social distancing — would have been a big barrier at the facilities we have now,” she said. “Sometimes in the basic English classes, we have had as many as 48 students in a small classroom.”
In the three-story converted Epworth Hospital building, students can spread out in multiple classroom spaces, Laguitan said, “and we will be able to provide testing practice spaces and testing rooms. That’s a blessing.”
After the sometimes tumultuous spring semester, which was interrupted by state and local quarantine orders and a sudden shift to remote emergency instruction, Laguitan said a little breathing room is welcome.
“Last year I enrolled all my faculty in mental health first aid, and we all earned certificates,” she said. “That training will help us, and so will the new space that allows us to keep calm and give people some reassurance.
“Enrollment is coming soon, and by Aug. 13 we will know more about what to expect in terms of numbers. In one way, we have no idea what to expect — new students, new space for teaching, new circumstances with the COVID. But we do have plans and some resources — masks, gloves, disinfectants.”
Laguitan is confident her instructors are ready for the task.
“Our instructors — I’m so grateful for them. With our limited budget, there is no way the salary these teachers earn is enough, but they still stay. They just love teaching these students,” she said.
The students, too, inspire.
“We have a lot of people coming to us from different countries, where they have been through difficult, difficult situations,” she said. “The problems we have here, even with the pandemic, are not going to stop them. Our students are resilient.”