Morning ESL student council president Marco Estrella, center, recently went to Sacramento to speak in favor of adult education.
Representing students’ needs and advocating to secure their own education is part of the idea of the San Mateo Adult School’s 11-year-old English as a Second Language student councils, especially with potential changes to the state’s adult school programming.
There are two student councils at the school, one for evening class students and one for morning class students. On Jan. 29, Marco Estrella, president of the morning council, and former morning council president Hitomi Kawagishi attended a legislative oversight hearing in Sacramento on adult education. The two, and other ESL students, asked for a more information so legislators can make good laws.
“I really want to participate in the process,” said Kawagishi, who moved from Japan a few years ago so her husband could work at Amazon.com. “We wanted to give our ideas on how to make adult education better.”
The state has created regional consortia made up of community colleges and school districts to determine the future of adult education. The school is currently under the San Mateo Union High School District and is working with colleges in the San Mateo County Community College District, along with four other adult schools in the area as part of a consortium, said Assistant Director Tim Doyle.
Kawagishi and others fear older students could get cut from adult education to focus more on job and college-based programs. The governor’s proposed budget does indicate a commitment to creating a funding mechanism for adult education by 2015-16, and reinforces requirements that K-12 districts maintain the 2012-13 level of adult education funding in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
The councils have more than $10,000 in their reserves, which comes from fundraisers for different holidays, raffles and primarily from making and selling the school’s student IDs. There are yearly elections for presidents, vice presidents and secretaries. The two councils have parallel agendas and both have to approve agenda items. Students can share ideas and opinions about programs and policies; plan special events or projects; spend money on activities, special events and efforts to save and rebuild adult education and items such as a PA system, barbecue grill, tables, benches and a high-definition video camera; participate in and learn about democracy; and create and strengthen community relationships. Meetings for the councils occur once a month and class representatives report student issues at the meetings.
Aside from the council, the school has created a strong sense of community and inclusion for students. Kawagishi found herself at home watching TV all day when she first moved to the country.
“I had no friends or relatives and was so isolated,” said Kawagishi, who lives in Burlingame. “I was so lucky; the school is so great.”
Estrella, 45, moved to the United States from Mexico 15 years ago and decided to join the adult school 10 months ago. He wants to get his GED diploma this spring and is currently taking advanced ESL classes. He worked for many years to support his two children, he said.
“I want to be a good example for them (his children),” said Estrella, who also works at The Vans Restaurant in Belmont in the evening. “The most important thing I learned here was to trust myself and have goals for the future.”
The ESL students like advocating for the fact that adult education is important for reasons other than just learning English, including meeting new friends, learning about American culture, becoming a citizen or finding out a correct way to look for a job. Students tend to wear their red school shirts on Tuesdays to show spirit for adult education.
ESL teacher Cynthia Eagleton helps support the councils and runs the ESL student blog, along with a blog called Adult Education Matters. She believes the councils are a way for students to feel invested in their work.
“I think it is a really amazing opportunity to develop leadership skills and understand how democracy works — not all native-born Americans understand how democracy works,” she said. “They’re taking it to the next level by doing advocacy in Sacramento. They’ve really been inspiring to schools across the state.”
Meanwhile, the councils’ advisor Lisa Dolehide said the morning group has really bloomed.
“They’re really sincere in their advocacy for it (adult education),” she said.
Three ESL students will present a workshop on school and community leadership at the California Council of Adult Education Bay Section Conference on Saturday, March 1. At the conference, the students will explain why their school is so active, Kawagishi said.
The school has talked about having GED representative on the council, but it hasn’t happened yet, Eagleton said.
The school will meet with other consortium members, which include Jefferson, South San Francisco, Sequoia and Cabrillo adult schools, March 5 to begin the planning process for the future of adult education, Doyle said.
Check out the ESL student blog at smaceesl.blogspot.com. The Adult Education blog can be found at adulteducationmatters.blogspot.com.
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