Dover Adult Learning Center has evolved to meet needs over 50 years

The Dover Adult Learning Center on Atkinson Street in Dover.
The Dover Adult Learning Center on Atkinson Street in Dover.

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series recounting the history of the Dover Adult Education Center, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

DOVER — For the past five decades, Dover Adult Learning Center of Strafford County has been on a mission to help students enhance their skills and improve their lives through education, job preparation, high school completion, and enrichment classes.

DALC was incorporated as an organization in 1972 although adult basic education classes were hel in Dover as early as 1966. Over the past 50 years, the center has grown and continually adapted to serve the changing needs of students.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, current and former students, staff, board and volunteers, will gather from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the front lawn of the McConnell Center to celebrate this milestone. There will be tours of the center, exhibits on the history of DALC and the opportunity to share and reminisce.

As we prepared to celebrate, we pored through our archive of 50 years, from graduate essays to student writing, to photos and celebrations. Much of the history was recorded in the pages of Foster’s Daily Democrat. We will always be grateful for the coverage and for this opportunity to share a walk down memory lane.

Dover adult learning adapts to changes

Chapter two in our stroll down memory lane reveals a lot of changes at DALC, new directors, a new home, and changing student demographics.

In celebration of its 25th year, a banner was hung above the streets of Dover proclaiming: Dover Adult Learning Center, 25 years of opportunity. It’s never too late to learn. The November 1997 celebration included an open house and a soiree.

In coverage of the event, Debbie Tasker, director since 1980, was pictured with founder Helen Phipps who said at the time that she was always the politician and Tasker was the educator. Tasker was quick to credit Phipps for having the vision to grow the program.

Prominent local attendees at the 25th celebration included State Representative Joe Parks, who donated the proceeds of his gardening classes to DALC; State Senator Katie Wheeler; Mayor Charlie Reynolds, and Brian Gottlob, chair of the Dover school board at the time.

In 1999, Tasker left DALC to serve as second-in-command to the state director of the NH Bureau of Adult Education capping a 30-year run, with the last 20 spent as executive director.

Tasker praised the support from the School Board, community groups, and the city over her tenure. “I have to say that the students are the ultimate reason for doing this type of work,” she said. “It really takes a lot of courage to come back to school, especially if one has struggled before or had bad experiences.”

She added that the hiring in 1999 of the center’s first transition counselor was an important step in DALC’s plans for 2000 and beyond. “Twenty years ago, fewer adult graduates had the opportunity to proceed to college, but now grants and more flexible programs are making that step easier.”

Jim Verschueren took over as DALC’s executive director in the fall of 2000. He said at the time he planned to teach some of the English classes himself, having taught English as a second language, while serving in the Peace Corps.

Among his short-term goals were to expand the number of computer courses and to reach out to parts of Strafford County not being served. But as always, funding was top of mind. “We need to do some serious work on fundraising and financial stability,” he said. “We live on donations; we live on good will and we live on staff doing more than they are paid to do.”

In May 2002, DALC opened a computer lab for software classes with grant funding from Verizon. The computers would allow students who needed to improve basic skills as they worked toward a high school equivalency degree to access online modules and take practice tests. Students could also learn new job skills or become more proficient in software applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel.

In March of 2003, DALC appealed for $161,730 in grant money to renovate classrooms it planned to lease in the former Dover Middle School, what would become known as the McConnell Center. Although the road to its current home would be a long one, much like the journey, there would be help along the way.

In 2006, the board of directors launched a $200,000 major gifts campaign dubbed “Come Help Us Grow” that would run for five years and allow pledges to be made through 2010. Donations by students and former students were being matched at 100% by a donor.

As part of the campaign in 2008, HOOT! was held at Dover High School as an evening of music with Dover favorite Eugene Byrne and Friends. Several local businesses stepped up to sponsor the event. A fitting way to raise funds, as music has always been an integral part of learning at DALC.

The annual culture fair is one of the most profound celebrations. Staff and students, particularly in the English language and citizenship classes, share elements of their culture, attend the event in traditional clothing and share a pot-luck banquet with a global spin. In any given year, there might be African rice, Indonesian noodles and chicken, and Irish soda bread. Students also share pictures, video, traditional music and dance.

Speaking of dancing, a 2006 Dover Rotary Club project called the Dancing Bears of Dover has given DALC a mascot of sorts. DALC is the proud caretaker of Pi, the Joy of Learning Bear, who was created by artist Sally Allen. Pi is one of 31 bears displayed across Dover. He can be seen sporting a graduation gown in June, his beach attire in July and holiday outfits throughout the year.

In November 2006, following years or planning and fundraising, DALC prepared to move to the McConnell Center. With $42,000 of the $100,000 goal raised to cover the move, an open house was held to show off the progress on the new space. Verschueren said DALC would be up and running in its new home in January 2007.

Along with all of the large, bright classrooms, offices for counseling students and administrative functions as well as rooms for testing, DALC’s new home included a computer classroom on the third floor of the McConnell Center. In partnership with the city of Dover, DALC would have access to the room for computer classes and student use in exchange for providing open hours to the residents of Dover, a practice which continues today.

The computer lab proctors are volunteers that are a part of the Adult Tutorial Program, which also provides classroom volunteers and matches students and tutors for one-to-one support. Whether a student needs a little extra help from a tutor or isn't able to thrive or be comfortable in a classroom setting, the program can bridge that gap.

The annual tutor appreciation event is a wonderful opportunity for these dedicated volunteers to share their experience, to inspire the newcomers and to celebrate not just the accomplishments but sometimes the lasting friendships that they develop with students.

In June 2008, after 35 years as one of the first faces students would see, counselor Donna McAdam retired. Verschueren called her the “Soul of the Center,” who set the pace for everyone else. The following summer, Verschueren himself retired with plans to travel and live in France for a year.

Only the fourth director in the history of DALC, Deanna Strand was appointed in 2009. She came to Dover with 10 years’ experience in the adult education field, including stints in York and Rockingham counties. Search committee member Paula Deplanche said she was confident, “Strand will bring us to the next level of growth.”

In 2012, the computer lab got a big upgrade thanks to Portsmouth-based Lonza, which donated funds raised during a golf tournament. Such community partnerships have been the lifeblood of DALC for 50 years. From the earliest funding from Church Women United, the Dover Exchange Club and Dover Kiwanis and Lions clubs to the Dover Rotary, students get help with all the little things that can so easily add up and get in the way of education, from a bus ticket to a textbook, even to a cap and gown.

The CPL Andrew Aimesbury Memorial fund provides support and special scholarships to DALC graduates. Aimesbury was killed during a military training accident Dec. 9, 2015, serving his country. Struggling to get through a traditional high school education, DALC assisted Aimesbury in his pursuit of his GED, which he received on his 17th birthday, one of the proudest days of his life at that point. His family organizes fundraising events every year to fuel the dreams of DALC students.

To learn more about DALC or share your memories, go to and be sure to join us on Tuesday, Oct. 4, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the front lawn of the McConnell Center to celebrate this milestone. RSVP at

This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Dover Adult Learning Center has evolved to meet needs over 50 years