Inside a bright green classroom tucked cozily on the first floor of the North Side Learning Center, Linda Smith is at home in front of the classroom.
“I love seeing the students when they really—when they really grasp it,” said Smith, program director of The Learning Place (TLP). “I just feel so happy when a student starts speaking and listening more confidently.”
For more than 20 years, TLP has served as an adult education center and community space for language and literacy programming in Central New York. In March 2020, with the help of a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation’s Strategic Partnership Fund, TLP co-located to the North Side Learning Center (NSLC) after selling its facility on the city’s Eastside.
In the last ten years, Syracuse’s Northside neighborhood has become home to many resettled New Americans, with the majority of non-English speakers in Onondaga County calling Northside home.
The Learning Place, founded by the late Phyllis Newland in 1990, aimed to expand the then- typical one-on-one tutoring approach to adult literacy by creating a neighborhood-specific literacy center where people had a place to socialize, gather, and learn together. The move to the city’s Northside continues this tradition, and meets the needs of residents living there.
“The Eastside neighborhood has changed. What used to be an area where residents could walk across the street to TLP, is now filled with high-end housing geared to university students,” said Mark Cass, NSLC’s executive director. “We saw the need on the Northside.”
The NSLC is a family literacy and community resource center rooted in the Northside neighborhood of Syracuse. For a decade, the center has been tailoring youth and adult language and literacy instruction to the needs of the Northside’s large New American population. Its adult programming specializes in early English learning and regularly refers people for services like GED courses.
Now, the co-location offers and expansion of targeted services to the Northside that would have been referred elsewhere while reducing fixed operating costs.
On the back wall of the classroom, Smith proudly displays her Wall of Fame, gold stars with the names of students that passed New York State’s HSE/TASC, formerly known as the GED. Cass said Smith holds students to a high standard and believes in them when they don’t believe in themselves.
“I’m going to figure out what you need and what you want. I’m not going to teach you what you know,” Smith said. “I’m going to find out what you don’t know and we’re going to work on that.”