The vital importance of adult non-credit programs

Typographic presentation of Bargaining Unit Boost

The Instructor Bargaining Unit in OSSTF/FEESO District 27, Limestone, is a small but dynamic unit comprised of permanent and occasional Instructors teaching Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) and English as a Second Language (ESL). Together we provide a vital service to students and their families within the communities of Kingston, Sydenham, and Napanee. Adult non-credit programs support families and the economy in our communities by strengthening the language and academic skills of young and older adults, many of whom have children in the public school system.

Our clientele ranging in age from 19–60 years old, largely represents the underserved members of our community affected by socio-economic and other inequities including disrupted education, trauma, learning disabilities, mental health, generational poverty, and in some cases incarceration. Many of our students are newcomers to Canada and are affected by issues such as trauma, culture shock, and language barriers.

An example of a successful outcome

David and Marcus are brothers from the Congo who fled to Uganda where they lived as refugees before immigrating to Canada. David had his high school diploma from the Congo and an IT Certificate from the International University of East Africa. Marcus earned his high school diploma in Uganda. They had no proof of documentation because they left everything in Africa when they immigrated to Canada after the death of their parents. They are both responsible for the care of their three younger siblings. They were both supported through the process of Prior Learning Assessment Recognition (PLAR) in the LBS program, and graduated last June. David also works part time in IT from home, and Marcus was working in the food service industry during his studies.

Students may be referred to LBS or ESL programs, in order to meet their language and/or educational upgrading goals. In some cases, once Canadian Language Benchmark (CBL) 6 is achieved, ESL students may register in the LBS program and work toward preparing for PLAR assessments to work toward their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) or generally improve their academic skills to prepare for employment.

Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) program

The LBS program provides an opportunity to re-engage students who have left school without achieving their OSSD as well as those aiming to increase their skills for independence or employment. The role of the LBS Instructor is to:

  • reduce barriers to learning by providing
  • a safe, welcoming space;
  • help students achieve their goals by teaching across various competencies to develop and apply communication, numeracy, interpersonal, and digital skills to successfully transition to
  • employment, secondary credit, post-secondary education, apprenticeship, or increased independence; and
  • provide a pathway for adult ESL students who wish to enter secondary credit and pursue further education.
A typical day in LBS

LBS students arrive at locations in Kingston, Sydenham, and Napanee. Adult students returning to school are often referred to the LBS program first. It can take a great deal of courage for an adult student to take the steps to go back to school to earn their grade 12 or improve their skills for other pathways. Students are greeted warmly by Instructors who work to instill an initial sense of confidence, praising students for taking the monumental first step to make a change in their lives. Each student works at their own pace on learning activities and tasks identified in their individualized learner plan. An LBS Instructor circulates in the classroom, providing instruction in math, reading comprehension, computer work, and written communication while working to instill a sense of hope, optimism, and success in each student.


Johnny entered the LBS program at 26 with 3 high school credits on his transcript. His background included issues with addiction and crime. He spent time upgrading his skills and preparing for prior learning assessments. He obtained a part time job in the food industry and stopped receiving Ontario Works payments. He graduated with his OSSD two years later and obtained a full time job. He saved money and was able to put a down payment on a house which he intended to renovate and rent. Today he is employed full time, owns 3 rental houses, and feels as though he has accomplished his dream of success.

ESL Program

ESL Instructors focus on building skills in the competencies of speaking, listening, reading, and writing with an emphasis on building community, learning about Canadian culture, self-advocacy, and identifying supports addressing health, safety, and wellness.
Community is built by providing a welcoming space to connect with one another and to the broader Kingston community. Instructors provide opportunities for learning by arranging for guest speakers as well as field trips. Many adult ESL students also have children attending school in Limestone District School Board. This increases their sense of belonging as they are also a part of the Limestone community.

Sonia is an Economics graduate from Moscow University in Russia. She immigrated to Canada, entered the ESL program in Limestone, and achieved her CLB level 8. She then registered in the LBS program, progressed to credit at an alternative education site, and graduated with her grade 12. She went on to Business Administration at St. Lawrence College. She is now finished her CPA and works as an accountant in a local firm.

A typical day in ESL

On any given day, students from many countries including Syria, Korea, Lebanon, Sudan, Jordan, Iran, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Taiwan arrive early to one of 5 classes ranging in levels from basic to advanced. The hallways are bustling with activity as each student spends time greeting friends in the ESL community and checking in with their Instructor. Classes start at 9:00 am with the odd students trickling in late after taking care of family needs such as dropping off a child at daycare or school. Lessons often begin with a focus on vocabulary organized into themes such as health care, education, or parent-teacher interviews. Instructors design and deliver lessons that have everyday relevance with conversation built into class activities ensuring each student has an opportunity to practice speaking English in a supported environment. Confidence is built so that students can interact in English and self-advocate in every area of their new life in Canada.

Adult non-credit supporting the broader education system and the economy

In April 2023, a representative from each of LBS, ESL, and the Teachers’ Bargaining Unit (TBU) presented to the Trustees of the Limestone District School Board effectively making the connection regarding how the adult non-credit programs support the children and adolescents within the education system as well as their families as a whole. Building on language skills along with community connectedness, strengthens the ability of adult newcomers to Canada to interact in Canadian Society including self-advocacy, confidence in communications with professionals such as teachers, medical, and law personnel, and an enhanced ability to navigate public transportation, prepare for Canadian citizenship, and participate in democratic processes. In this way, adult non-credit programs support mental health and family cohesion—positively affecting our younger, more vulnerable students. This builds resiliency and strengthens families, which in turn, affects the success of their children in Limestone District School Board schools.

Similarly, the LBS program provides an opportunity to re-engage students who have left school without achieving their OSSD. Participating in LBS provides key opportunities to prepare for further education and employment. One of the main goals for the LBS program as stated by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) is to reduce the number of Ontarians accessing Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programs by increasing literacy and employment skills to enter the workforce.


Naila and her husband immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2004 and landed in Montreal under a Refugee status. They both had no prior English language skills, but required employment so they secured a position at a garment factory in Montreal where they worked for two years. Eventually, they made their way to Kingston and enrolled in English as Second Language classes. Naila, who began studying at a Canadian Language Pre-Benchmark of 0, is now studying at a CLB 6. She has raised 3 children in Kingston, while her husband, a taxi driver, began establishing his business. Her husband now owns and operates two taxis. Recently, they purchased and moved into their very first home. Naila’s 3 children attend school in Kingston, where she is grateful for their excellent education and well-being in a safe and friendly community. Her eldest child recently graduated from high school and is currently attending St. Lawrence College. Naila is working part-time in retail.

Precariousness of funding

The Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development funds both LBS and ESL. Funding is renewed each year based on the numbers of students served, program outcomes, and average daily enrollment. In the last 2 Federation years, funding announcements for provincially funded ESL programs were not released until July in 2022 and May in 2023. This creates significant challenges to complete the staffing process in time for Instructors to make important decisions and for the Board to adequately plan for fall programming. Recently the Ministry reduced the funding to the ESL programs, creating the loss of a position in Limestone. Not only is funding for these programs precarious since they are not part of the Ministry of Education funding, but similar to other job classes, we are continually asked to do more with less!

About Wendy Bonnell with Carrie Barr and Julia Perkins
Wendy Bonnell (she/her) Instructors’ Bargaining Unit President District 27, Limestone with Carrie Barr (she/her) ESL Instructor, District 27, Limestone and Julia Perkins (she/her) LBS Instructor, District 27, Limestone

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