SAN LORENZO -- Many enrolled in Amparo Ramos' English language learner class are mothers, fathers and grandparents of students in the K-12 San Lorenzo Unified District, which has operated the adult school for more than 50 years while struggling to keep money flowing to it.

Now, after years of funding cuts, the future of the San Lorenzo Adult School and others statewide hang in the balance. Under Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget, adult classes would be guaranteed $315 million in state funding but, as a way to streamline offerings and eliminate redundancies, they would be offered solely by local community colleges.

That's a scary prospect, says John Kelly, principal of San Lorenzo's adult school.

A change to community college campuses would hurt some of the neediest San Lorenzo adult school students, especially the more than 200 trying to learn to speak English. Those courses are the most popular in K-12 district-operated adult education programs statewide, according to the California Department of Education.

If adult school classes were to move to Chabot College in Hayward or Laney College in Oakland, students, especially those in English classes, could find their classrooms inaccessible, Kelly said.

Many walk or bike to school, and a survey of Kelly's students by the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District last year "found that negotiating public transportation is very difficult for our students. Posted signs and schedules are only in English. Busses arrive late or not at all," Kelly said. "Our students aren't yet fluent enough in English to get help from the bus drivers."


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Essential classes

Ramos focuses her level two English language learner course on three areas: learning how to communicate with employers, doctors and teachers. Down the hall, a class of 22 level one English language learners practice explaining household problems, like a leaky roof, broken oven or peeling paint, to a repair man.

But a major part of learning English is to better help their children, Ramos said.

Her students "come from China, Vietnam, Latin America, some people from Africa, and those people are bringing with them children that are in schools and these are parents that need to understand the complicated system," said Ramos, who immigrated from Mexico 25 years ago. "They need to take (children) to the doctor, they need to take them to school, they need to help with homework and they need to understand the culture and become part of this culture, so ignoring them is such a huge mistake."

As deep cuts were made to K-12 funding by the state, school districts were given "flexibility" to use their adult education funds on other programs. In San Lorenzo, that flexibility meant that 75 percent of the district's share of the adult school's funding went away, and afternoon and night classes were eliminated in the fall of 2009.

The school that once served 500 English language learners now serves less than half that number. The entire adult education program subsists this year on a $640,000 budget, with $500,000 from the district, nearly $53,000 in federal grant money and $90,000 from student fees. Students pay $30 per trimester to take English learner classes.

Adult programs in larger districts have also seen cuts. According to a June report by the education nonprofit EdSource, 23 of the state's 30 largest districts made major cuts to their adult programs.

Not only did Ramos feel the impact when her job went from full time to part time, she also saw a large number of students suddenly unable to get to class because of day jobs.

"We kind of get forgotten," Ramos said. "It's a circle, and somehow I guess at the legislative level, they don't understand how affecting the adults they are affecting the children. If the adults are educated, the children will also be."

Anxious to learn

Irma Ramos has reached level five English learner classes at San Lorenzo Adult School English and she wants to get a job to help her three kids. She moved to the United States from Mexico in 1996.

"When I go to the doctor with my kids, I need to know how to make a question and get an answer for them if they have a question," she said. "Also to help my kids with their homework. Sometimes I have a meeting with the teachers for my kids. I need to understand what they are telling me about my kids and also make a question about how to make some progress in the class.

"It is not easy for us when we come from different countries."

Hayward resident Thuy Trinh moved from Vietnam nearly 20 years ago and recently enrolled in San Lorenzo's level five English learner class. She began her English studies in Vietnam but has struggled here to improve her skills while taking care of her three children. Once a hairstylist, Trinh volunteers with Kaiser Permanente in Hayward and hopes to eventually work as a medical desk clerk.

"In my country, we don't have past tense or present tense, so it is really hard for me with that. I try to learn. Sometimes I forget, but teacher is very nice. She makes it easy to understand," Trinh said. "I hope people can enroll. The English language is very hard but now with school cuts, it's hard."

Azuzena Romero, a San Lorenzo resident, enrolled in Ramos' class in August after she heard about the program from her grandkids.

"When you are in another country it is very important to know the language. Even though it might not be perfect, at least you can learn the basics and develop your abilities," Ramos said in Spanish. "We have a very good professor. She has patience with us so we can develop our skills."

Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.

SAN LORENZO Adult School
Classes for English language learners at San Lorenzo Adult School cost $30 per trimester, unless the student is receiving public assistance such as welfare. Students are asked for basic information before enrolling, including their name, date of birth, address, phone number and course intentions, among other requests. They are not asked for a social security number, income or immigration status.
Spring courses begin at San Lorenzo Adult School on March 4 and registration begins Feb. 19. For more information visit adult-slzusd-ca.schoolloop.com or call (510) 317-4200.