Sacramento needs to hear from us now about the crucial need for more adult school funding! During the week of May 6-10, join the letter writing campaign to request an additional $110 Million for adult education. The governor’s budget currently provides no additional funding for adult schools, leaving them in the same financial bind they have been in since 2008. We need to ask that this be corrected in the May revise of the budget, which will come out soon.
For more information, follow this link to California Council for Adult Education’s letter writing campaign:
Come to the West Contra Costa Board of Education meeting April 24 to support the adult school Older Adult program!
What: West Contra Costa Board of Education meeting
When: Wednesday, April 24 at 6:30 PM
(Come at 6:00 to sign up to speak in public comment)
Where: Lovonya DeJean Middle School
3400 Macdonald Ave., Richmond 94805
Contact the Board to express your support for the Older Adult Program:
C: (510) 610-9438
C: (661) 303-2394
Valerie Cuevas Member
M: (510) 231-1101
C: (510) 309-1514
M: (510) 307-7872
Contact Superintendent Matthew Duffy: Matthew.Duffy@wccusd.net
Background and Talking Points
Adult school Older Adult programs to end or begin charging high fees in June of 2019!
West Contra Costa Adult Education (WCCAE) has provided free senior center programs and classes for Older Adults for more than twenty years. In June of 2019, WCCAE plans to either end the Older Adult program altogether or start charging high fees that many seniors will not be able to afford. Below are some facts about the adult school Older Adult program.
Composition of the Program: The West Contra Costa Adult Education Older Adult program currently includes three senior centers: Christ Lutheran and St. John’s senior centers in El Cerrito and Sakura Kai in Richmond. The program also provides free exercise classes at the Richmond Senior Center.
More than 250 seniors are currently served by the program. Most live in the El Cerrito and Richmond areas.
Demand for the program is high and growing. Sakura Kai is at capacity and has a waiting list. Membership at St. John’s has increased 40% since 2018.
Services for seniors need to remain free, as 45% of seniors live below the poverty line. Some seniors who attend the adult school senior centers cannot afford lunch.
Cost of the program is about $34,000 per year.
Senior centers offer a unique service: The Centers offer a full day of activities from 9:00 to about 3:00 PM one day a week. The programs are shaped by the students, who suggest topics that interest them which become the basis of the curriculum. A lunch is served for which students pay, but students who are unable to pay are still served lunch. For some students, the one day a week they attend a senior center may be their only opportunity to socialize for that week, and the lunch they eat at the senior center may be their only meal of the day.
Sakura Kai is a senior center that addresses the needs of the Japanese-American community; there are no similar programs in the surrounding area.
The Older Adult program promotes healthy aging by combating isolation and offering mental and physical stimulation. Research shows that opportunities to socialize, learn and stay physically and mentally active help seniors stay healthier longer.
The Older Adult program provides the support seniors need to give back through volunteering. Seniors in the Older Adult program volunteer with the school Read Aloud program, the Writer Coach Connection, Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) and many other local organizations.
The adult school senior centers are tight-knit communities that give back to the larger community. In addition to supporting individual volunteers, the senior centers organize clothing drives for the homeless, entertain at schools and senior care facilities, provide music classes for school-age children, and more.
State funding for adult school Older Adult programs was ended in 2013, but West Contra Costa Adult Education, like some other adult schools, has found ways to support its Older Adult program with other funding until now. The district has not given an explanation as to why it has decided to stop funding these programs in June of 2019.
The governor’s budget for 2019-2020 currently does not include any increase in funding for California’s desperately underfunded adult schools. A revise of the budget is being prepared now for May release. The governor and other elected officials need to hear from adult school teachers, students, and the general public now! Write them now to request that an increase in funding for adult schools be included in the May revise.
Our elected officials also need to hear about the need for state funding for adult school Older Adult programs. The state stopped funding adult school Older Adult programs through the education budget in 2013, promising to find other funding for them. This alternative funding was never found, and adult schools are struggling to fund Older Adult programs with their scarce discretionary funds.
How to Contact Your Elected Officials:
It is easy to send the governor a letter via email by following this link:
Also send a copy to Tony Thurmond at the Department of Education. Here is the address:
California Department of Education
1430 N Street
Sacramento, CA 95814-5901
The most important thing for elected officials to hear is your own experience for adult schools and support for them. But here are some points you might want to address:
Adult School Funding
California has a vast need for adult education that has never been addressed. The 2010 Census reported that about 5 million Californians are in need of basic literacy services (determined by lack of a high school diploma or equivalent). The California Council for Adult Education has a more detailed breakdown that you can see here:
According to a 2012 Legislative Analyst’s Office report, community colleges and adult schools have only served about 1.5 million of these adults at the best of times.
Adult schools are an important resource for immigrants needing to learn English. At this time when California is committed to helping immigrants during a time that is particularly difficult for them, adult schools are more needed than ever.
If you are an adult school teacher, what difficulties are you facing due to inadequate funding?
If you are an adult school student or former student, how have your adult school classes helped you? Why do you want to the state to provide more support for them?
If you are a community member, what positive effects does your local adult school have on your community.
Older Adult Programs
Adult school programs for Older Adults are a good investment for the state. They combat isolation, which is one of the most serious challenges facing older Americans, and provide opportunities for socialization and mental stimulation that contribute to healthy aging.
— Physically, mentally and socially stimulating programs such as Older Adult classes provide reduce the likelihood of participants contracting dementia by 18 %. (American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 155, No.12, June 15, 2002)
—A British study estimated that improving healthy life expectancy by just one year each decade could save the state 14% on health care between 2007 and 2025. (British Department of Work and Pensions 2009 study, “Building a Society for All Ages, page. 15)
— Older Adult programs provide the support needed for seniors to add significant value to their communities through volunteer work. An informal study of participants in two West Contra Costa Older Adult programs found that, at a conservative estimate, Older Adult students provided about 6,463 hours of service during one school year, at a value of about $76,780 per year.
Older Adult programs provide an excellent opportunity for intergenerational learning. Older adult programs are part of school districts, so it can be easy to arrange interchanges between school age children and seniors in Older Adult programs. Living History exchanges and intergenerational art projects are just two of the possibilities. High school students considering work in the growing field of elder care could get experience by volunteering in Older Adult programs
Adult school Older Adult programs still exist, but adult schools now struggle to fund them out of discretionary funds. West Contra Costa, Berkeley, Piedmont and San Mateo are all examples of adult schools that have continued to run Older Adult programs since state funding for them was eliminated. They have had to start charging money, which puts these programs beyond the reach of some seniors.
The state has enough money to fund adult school Older Adult programs. The state continues to fund community college Older Adult programs, even though community college programs are more expensive to run than adult school programs (for one thing, community college teachers make a lot more than adult school teachers). Nor is this simply a matter of funding existing programs; the state is actively encouraging community colleges to open more non-credit programs (which Older Adult programs would be). If there is money to fund new community college programs for Older Adults, there should be money to fund adult school programs.
Adult schools deserve parity with community colleges. It is unfair for the state to pull funding for adult schools to run Older Adult programs and continue funding similar programs in the community colleges. It is also unfair to seniors who depend on adult school programs and do not live close to a community college that offers and Older Adult program.
At the time education funding was pulled for adult school Older Adult programs, lawmakers promised to find other funding for them, but this promise was not kept. Lawmakers promised funds, then left these programs to languish. Promises to California’s older adults should be kept.
I am an adult school Citizenship teacher in Richmond, California. Most nights, I have 20 or more students and 9 tattered Citizenship textbooks for them to share. In these textbooks, Barack Obama is still president because the books were purchased at the beginning of his term. When I ask for a new set of textbooks, or at least some additional textbooks so students won’t have to double up or even triple up on the books, I am told the adult school has no money for this. No money for ten more books!
Needless to say, I was very disappointed to see that the 2019-2020 budget does not include an increase in funding for adult schools. Governor Newsom, we have been waiting a very long time. Our funding went into free fall from 2008 to 2013 when the state initiated categorical flexibility to deal with the economic crisis created by the Great Recession. Our funding was never even partially restored. Ever since 2013, our funding has been stagnant; each adult school has had to operate on a yearly amount based on whatever reduced amount of funding their districts were providing for them in 2013.
The consortium system for adult school funding that was initiated in 2013 is not working for me and my students, at least in its current form. From where I sit, it looks like the state pays administrators with big salaries to sit in meetings and argue about money while we sit at the bottom with nothing. The consortia were supposed to improve adult education, but how are we supposed to improve with no books, no money for professional development, no money for copy paper, on and on? To be honest, it just feels like slow death, and most of the adult school teachers I know are discouraged and disheartened. They don’t deserve that. This is a dedicated group of people who have embraced a life of poverty, or at least very modest means, out of a desire to serve some of California’s most marginalized adults: immigrants, people with low levels of literacy, and the elderly.
In the consortia, we are told that adult schools and community colleges must not duplicate each other’s work. But then the state gave the community colleges a large amount of funding so they could start non-credit programs that duplicate what adult schools do. How do you explain that?
Categorical flexibility exacerbated inequities that were already present in the adult school system, and the consortia locked those inequities in. Richmond is a poor community in a district with a history of financial trouble, so our district took a lot of our funding during categorical flexibility, leaving us to operate on about a third of the budget we had before 2008. In our consortium, there are adult schools that were in districts that did not suffer as much from the economic crash and left their adult schools with much more money to work with. When the consortium system was initiated, our school board voted never to help the adult school out with any money from the Local Control Funding Formula. Meanwhile, in nearby (and better off) Berkeley, the district shares some of the LCFF money with its adult school.
The consortium system demands more and more data, so scarce adult school money is being sucked out of the classroom so we can collect and monitor more data. Well, my 20 students and their 9 textbooks are also data, but it’s not being reported to the state. So I am reporting it to you, Governor Newsom. You did not create this system, but you could do a lot to fix it, starting by providing an adequate level of funding for adult schools. I respectfully request that you add an increase in funding for adult schools to the 2019-2020 budget.
We are writing to request that the State of California find a way to fund adult school Older Adult programs. The cities of Richmond and El Cerrito are in danger of losing, as early as June, an adult school program that serves hundreds of older adults. Other cities may lose similar programs in the near future if something is not done soon. These highly effective and inexpensive programs are at risk because of a decision the California State Legislature made in 2013 to withdraw state funding for adult school Older Adult programs. Acting dishonestly and in bad faith, legislators promised to find other funding for these programs, but never did, leaving the programs in limbo. This is an injustice we hope your new administration will correct.
The programs at risk in Richmond and El Cerrito are the Christ Lutheran Senior Center, St. John’s Senior Center, and the Sakura Kai program for Japanese-speaking seniors. If these programs have to close down, it will be a loss to the community as well as to the students. Assumptions about aging often blind us to the contributions seniors can make with the proper support. Many of the students at Christ Lutheran Senior Center volunteer in the schools with programs like the Read Aloud and Writer Coach Connection. Through the Center, seniors find volunteer opportunities and access the support that helps them keep volunteering. Sakura Kai provides docents for museum exhibits on Japanese-American history in the Bay Area, and has several performance groups, including a Taiko drumming group, that perform at local schools and at community events. If these programs close, their cultural resources will be lost to the community, while cities are left to deal with a more isolated senior population, and families will have to cope with the loss of a service that was helping their older relative stay healthy and independent.
Adult school programs for Older Adults are a good investment for the state. They combat isolation, which is one of the most serious challenges facing older Americans, and provide opportunities for socialization and mental stimulation that contribute to healthy aging. Studies have repeatedly shown that programs where older adults learn new things, socialize, and stay active in civic life through volunteering and other opportunities actually save the state money by helping seniors stay healthy and active longer. Healthy, active seniors need fewer government services, and they also make significant contributions to their communities in the form of volunteer labor.
When the state eliminated funding for adult school Older Adult programs, many adult schools were forced to close those programs. But others, feeling an obligation to students they had served for years, found ways to keep their Older Adult programs open with whatever other funding they could find. This often required them to start charging at least some money for classes that had once been free, which put these much-needed services out of reach for low-income seniors. But the schools did their best to subsidize the programs as much as possible and make them accessible to as many elders as they could. Now some of these programs that were struggling are beginning to falter, and they, too, may be lost if the state does not remedy the situation.
Whatever the reason the state had for pulling the funding for adult school programs for seniors, it wasn’t really economic. Under state law, community colleges can still run similar programs with state funds, and these programs are more expensive than adult school programs because community college teachers make more money. Many community colleges do not have Older Adult programs, as they are primarily institutions of higher learning concerned with offering college level courses for credit. When an adult school has to close its Older Adult program for lack of funding, there is no guarantee that a nearby community college has a similar program, or is willing to start one. Even if a community college is willing to pick up an adult school Older Adult program, it is more expensive to break down an existing program and start a new one than to keep an existing program going.
Adult school advocates were told, at the time the state pulled funding for Older Adult programs, that the legislature did not think programs for Older Adults belonged in the education budget. Perhaps money would be found in the health budget. This seems to have been a dodge, since they never did anything, but simply left these programs to close or languish. Yet they left funding for Older Adults in the community college budget, which is part of the education budget. Californians deserve an education policy that is consistent and fair. We ask that funding be found for adult school Older Adult programs, and we feel that they should be part of the education budget, as they are for the community colleges. It is an insult to older Californians to suggest that they don’t deserve education, and that everything for seniors belongs in the health budget; to be old is not necessarily to be sick. Older people continue to learn, grow and contribute. California needs to invest in them and treat them like the assets they are.
Pinole Progressive Alliance
Consuelo Lara, Concilio Latino
Jessica Peregrina, Concilio Latino
Adult School Teachers United
Richmond Progressive Alliance School Action Team
Cynthia Eagleton, Adult School Teacher, San Mateo Adult School, Adult Education Matters Blogger
California Federation of Teachers CFT Local 4681, representing San Mateo Adult School teachers
Adult School Teachers United, representing adult school teachers in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, respectfully urges you to include increased funding for California’s adult schools in the 2019-2020 budget. We applaud the increases in spending on education in the proposed budget, particularly the increase in spending on the youngest children. However, we were very disappointed to see that there was no increase in funding for adult schools, which are severely underfunded and have not received an increase in funding since 2008. California’s adult schools provide basic literacy and low-cost job training for the most vulnerable adults in the state: immigrants who need to learn English, adults who need to earn a high school diploma or the equivalent, and adults with disabilities. Our students are frequently low-income because their lack of basic literacy shuts them out of better paying jobs. Because job prospects for our students improve dramatically as they reach their potential, an adequately funded, thriving adult school system is key to the economic health of the state. Adult schools also provide an important support for children, especially children in low-income families, because as parents become more educated, outcomes for their children improve in a variety of ways.
California has a vast need for adult education that has never been met. According to the last U.S. Census, about 5.3 million adults in California, about one-fifth of the population, are in need of basic literacy services. In the best of times, California’s adult school and community college systems combined have only served about 1.5 million. During the Great Recession, both adult schools and community colleges lost funding, and both systems lost capacity to serve adult students. Adult schools were particularly hard hit; some closed their doors entirely. Since 2013, funding for community colleges has been restored, while funding for adult schools, which were even harder hit by the recession, has remained flat. The failure to increase funding for adult schools has not only prevented them from regaining their former capacity, but also locked in inequities because adult schools in low-income communities were frequently hit harder by cuts than adult schools in more affluent areas. For example, before 2008 Oakland had an adult school system that served 25,000 students. They had several adult school buildings in different parts of the city, enabling them to serve students in the neighborhoods where students lived, worked, or sent their students to school. Oakland currently has 11 classes and shares a building with a high school. They have never been able to restore even a fraction of their capacity.
California needs a robust adult school system. Not every community is close to a community college, but every community has a school district and thus the capacity to have an adult school. California has a large immigrant population that needs to master the English language. Adult schools have been providing English language instruction for immigrants since the 1850s, and still provide more English language instruction than credit and non-credit community colleges combined. Adult school teachers are professionals who must earn a credential in order to teach. We know how to do the job and have been doing it for a long time. We need adequate funding that matches the importance of our contributions.
Since 2013, state funding for adult schools has been distributed to the Adult Education Consortia. A portion of the consortium funding was dedicated to the adult schools in the consortium, based on what adult schools were receiving from their districts in 2013. This is the amount that needs to be increased. Our community college consortium partners have funding independent of the consortium; in fact, the vast majority of their funding is not tied to the consortium. But adult schools are almost entirely dependent on the consortium funding, and their portion never gets an increase. This is an untenable situation, as costs keep going up, and the adult schools continue to lose capacity as they struggle to keep up with rising expenses. In order to be true partners with the community colleges, adult schools need that measure of security and autonomy that comes with adequate and fair funding.
Adult schools could be doing so much more for the state of California with improved funding. A 2011 California Department of Education study found that the return on investment in adult education included not only economic benefits for the state and individuals, but also increased civic engagement including improved voting levels, more immigrants attaining U.S. citizenship, improved individual and family health, reduced recidivism and improvements in children’s education. These are all improvements that will contribute to stronger, more vibrant communities and, in the end, save the state money. Please consider increasing funding for California’s adult schools and unlocking our potential to bring the benefits of adult education to the state.
Adult School Teachers United
Kristen Pursley, President
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond
In 1950, following a conference on aging in that year, the State of California undertook to fund adult school programs for Older Adult (adults over the age of 55). In 2013, California’s adult schools were radically restructured in a way that excluded state funding for programs for Older Adults. Alarmed advocates for Older Adult programs were assured by legislators that education services for seniors would be funded some other way. Legislators explained that they just didn’t think educational services for seniors belonged in an education budget. Perhaps they should be funded through health services instead. This attitude was an insult to California’s seniors; disturbingly, it suggests that our elected officials don’t see older adults as people with brains who can continue to learn, grow and contribute, but only as deteriorating bodies that need medical attention. Hey, legislators, seniors vote in high numbers, and a lot voted for you. Not to mention that some of you aren’t so young yourselves.
But, to add injury to insult, the alternative funding somehow never showed up. Apparently it was an empty promise, designed to make the defunding of adult school Older Adult programs look less callous than it actually was, and discarded as soon as the deed was done in hopes that everybody would forget about it. With any luck, adult school programs for Older Adults would fade silently into the twilight, and everyone would soon accept that this is the way things had to be.
It’s not the way things had to be, nor is it the way they are. Maybe with a new governor and many new legislators, plus a booming economy, it’s time for California to rethink the cruel and unnecessary decision to defund these cost-effective and needed programs. It’s time to restore funding for Older Adult programs in California’s adult schools.
What is the situation of adult school Older Adult programs now? Some adult school administrators, shedding tears, to be sure, either of the real or crocodile type, did indeed eliminate their Older Adult programs as soon as the hammer fell, or even before, when they saw which way the wind was blowing. But Older Adult programs still struggle along in many adult schools. Most have had to start charging at least some money, which unfortunately means that educational services still are available to seniors who can pay, while those lacking resources are shut out. Even so, in order to make the classes somewhat affordable, adult schools have to find ways to subsidize the classes out of their scarce discretionary funds. This means that at least some adult school Older Adult programs may eventually reach the end of the line, unless something is done at the state level to support them.
This is not a case of the state not having funds for these programs. Community colleges can still offer Older Adult programs through their non-credit programs, and, unlike adult schools, they can still get ADA (money based on attendance) for them. Community college teachers are paid more than adult school teachers, and community college programs cost more than adult school programs. However not all community colleges want to have Older Adult programs, or are set up to offer them. If there is money to offer these programs through community colleges, there certainly is money to offer them through adult schools, and if an area has an adult school program for Older Adults, it would be much more cost effective to keep the adult school program going than to set up a new community college program.
Access to education for older adults should not be left to chance. Isolation is one of the most difficult challenges Americans face as they age; it contributes to poorer health outcomes and can even be life-threatening. Older Adult education programs are an effective way to overcome isolation and help seniors find community and a sense of purpose.
Older Adult programs actually save the state money. Evidence is mounting that physically, mentally and socially stimulating programs such as Older Adult classes provide reduce the likelihood of contracting dementia for participants by 18% (American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 155, no 12, June 15, 2002). A study by the British Department of Work and Pensions estimated that improving healthy life expectancy by just one year each decade could save the state 14% on health care between 2007 and 2025. (British Department of Work and Pensions 2009 study, “Building a Society for All Ages”, p. 15)
Older Adult programs also offer support that allows seniors to add significant value to their communities in the form of volunteer services. Two of the West Contra Costa Adult Education Older Adult programs polled their students regarding hours they spent volunteering in programs that benefit the school district, including the Read Aloud program and the Writer Coach Connection. At a conservative estimate; Older Adult students provided about 6,463 hours of service during one school year. The U.S. Department of Labor values volunteer labor at about $11.88 per hour, which means students in the district’s Older Adult program provided the equivalent of $76,780 in services that year alone. If a corporation gave a school district a $76,780 grant every year, the district would fall all over itself thanking them and probably name a building after the corporation. But because this is volunteer work by senior citizens, it goes unnoticed.
Time is running out for the West Contra Costa Adult Education Older Adult program. The lack of funding and support by the state has caught up with it, and it may be gone by June, 2019, unless California belatedly keeps its promise to Older Adult students.
AB2098 (McCarty and Thurmond) would change reporting required of the adult education consortia in two ways:
Currently, the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges and Superintendent of Public Instruction must make yearly reports to the state Director of Finance, Board of Education and Legislature regarding the use of funds appropriated for the Adult Education Program and educational outcomes for adults, both statewide and by region. These reports must include, among other things, recommendations regarding delivery of education and workforce services to adults. AB 2098 would require the reports to also be made to the Statewide Director of Immigrant Integration in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, and to include recommendations regarding delivery of immigrant integration instruction to adults.
AB 2098 would also require that the Chancellor and Superintendent identify additional measures for assessing the effectiveness of the consortia in delivering immigrant integration services to adults, in eight specified goal areas.
Currently, the consortia only report results in the following areas:
A. Number of adults served.
B. Improved literacy skills
C. Completion of a high school diploma.
D. Completion of postsecondary certificates, degrees or training programs.
E. Placement into jobs.
F. Improved wages.
AB 2098 would require the consortia to report results for immigrant students in the following additional areas:
a) Increased economic security.
b) Improved English proficiency.
c) Increased credentials and residency.
d) Increased health and well-being.
e) Increased educational and career advancement.
f) Increased first language literacy.
g) Improved provision for children and family.
h)Increased participation in civic and community life.
Interestingly, the reporting of adult education results to the state Director of Immigrant Integration takes adult education in California back to its roots, in a way. Almost 100 years ago, in 1919, the state appointed the first state adult school superintendent, Ethel Richardson. Her title was “Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction in Charge of Americanization.” “Americanization” was the word used for immigrant integration at the time; clearly, orientation of immigrants to life in the United States was seen as a key mission of adult education back then.
Adding the measures of immigrant integration results proposed in AB 2098 would allow the adult education consortia to provide the state with a much fuller picture of what they do. Most of the results reported under current law, such as completion of a high school diploma or attainment of higher wages, are the result of a long learning process with many steps along the way. It is important to recognize the incremental successes that contribute to the final result. And a system of reporting that leaves out consideration of the outcomes of adult education for families and communities ignores some of the key benefits of adult education. The education level of parents, particularly the mother, is a key factor in children’s school success, so adult education of immigrant parents is key to the economic and social health of the state. Adult education also has positive impacts on health that should be measured and taken into account in state education policy. And communities are safer and more vibrant when immigrants have the skills they need to participate fully in civic life; this should also be measured and reported.
The changes proposed by AB 2098 would give the state a more complete understanding of the contributions adult education makes to the state. This would be an improvement over the overly narrow and incomplete measures by which adult education is currently evaluated. Passage of this bill would allow California to more continually improve all aspects of the adult education system, and reap the benefits of an adult education program that is functioning at its best.
Adult School Teachers United, the union representing adult school teachers at West Contra Costa Adult Education (WCCAE), is strongly in support of AB 2098, and would like to thank you for sponsoring this bill. Many of us are teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL), and others teach Adult Basic Education, High School Diploma, GED, Career Tech Education, Adults with Disabilities, Older Adults and Community Interest classes. We are part of the Contra Costa County Adult Education Consortium (CCCAEC). As teachers, we observe every day that integration into community life in the United States is of utmost importance to our immigrant students. In order to effectively serve immigrant students, the state needs to adopt immigrant integration criteria so the consortia can measure results in this area and report them to the state. And the state must recognize and reward the consortia’s successes with respect to immigrant integration.
West Contra Costa County is home to a large immigrant population; over 50% of children in the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) are Hispanic or Latino, and about 10% are Asian. Around 30% of children in the WCCUSD system are English Language Learners. WCCAE has a large ESL program and three Citizenship classes to serve the immigrant population here, and immigrant students take advantage of all our other programs as well.
Our ESL program has, and has always had, a strong workforce preparation component, and we are strengthening our workforce preparation services by participating in the new EL Civics 243 program. But we have always known that our immigrant students need more than workforce preparation if they are to thrive in their new home. With so many English Language Learner children in our school district, family literacy, and particularly information about how to help children succeed in U.S. schools, is crucial. Our students need information about nutrition, as food choices in the United States are often very different from the ones they had in their home countries. And they need to learn how to participate fully in the life of their communities.
Last year we polled our ESL students about their learning goals at the beginning of class. Certainly, the majority of students had some kind of work related goal, but an even larger majority, the vast majority, in fact, indicated that they wanted to understand life in the United States better and be able to communicate with English speakers. So while our students surely have a variety of work-related aspirations, in every classroom they are united by their desire to comprehend better, and to participate more fully in, life in their new country.
Our experience with our EL Civics program bears this out. Students are strongly motivated to learn language related to finding and keeping a job, but they are equally motivated by family and community considerations. In the EL Civics program, they eagerly learn to make lists of questions in English to ask their children’s teachers in a parent-teacher conference, practice making 911 calls to prepare for emergencies, and learn to write letters to a landlord requesting repairs. They know they need to be prepared for these situations just as much as they need to prepare for a job.
No educational program can be successful if it ignores the reasons students came through its doors in the first place. Our immigrant students are strongly motivated by a desire to be better oriented to life in the United States, and to participate more fully in community life here. Therefore, the consortia need to be able to include immigrant integration in their mission and have an agreed-upon criterion for measuring and reporting success in this area.