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Adult Education Program Thrives in Dublin Despite Tri-Valley Budget Cuts

April 8, 2013

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Classroom 1

Some sights and sounds from a recent school site visit: a full classroom of students studies the white board and states in unison, “My neck hurts.” The teacher responds, “I’m very sorry to hear that.” The students then recite, “I feel fine.” The teacher then replies, “I’m very happy to hear that.” In the classroom next door, students dutifully take their turn in front of the classroom. The class exclaims, “Put the cat in front of the bear.” The selected student then holds the two stuffed animals in their proper place. The command for the next person is to “Put the bear in the box.” She then successfully executes the request. Were we wandering through first grade classroom at one of our elementary sites? No. These were the impressions from a recent visit to the Dublin Adult Education School that is housed on the Valley High School campus. We recently sat in on the English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

There were two striking observations from our experience. One, was the composition of the classrooms. There were young adults seated next to senior citizens. Further, the world map that adorned the wall was very appropriate. Latin, Middle Eastern, European and Asian cultures were fully represented. It truly looked like the United Nations. The second note is that all three classrooms were packed with students. At a time when Adult Education is constantly threatened by the lagging state budget, all ESL classes are full and a waiting list to enroll exists. To compare, the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District has reduced their offerings and the Pleasanton USD announced last July that they were closing their Adult Education program. Dublin Adult Education also provides offerings in Health & Safety, Microsoft Applications, Citizenship, Art Exploration and a Concurrent High School Diploma class, among others. Thanks to an invitation from Adult Education Principal Rinda Bartley, explored this subject more deeply. Is it part of a traditional model that the Principal of a Continuation High School also serve in the same capacity for Adult Education? Please explain.

Rinda Bartley: “It is not unusual for one administrator to serve both – especially when the schools are small. Both schools, Dublin Adult School and Valley High School are part of Dublin Unified School’s alternative education program. The other two are Quest Independent Study and the Home Schooling program – both run by Bryce Custodio.” While Adult Education programs are either being reduced or eliminated in surrounding communities, why has the Dublin program survived and thrived?

Bartley: “There are several reasons. First, I believe that our Superintendent, district managers and Board of Trustees value adult education for the community. They have seen first-hand what a difference it makes in the lives of students. Our program supports students of all ages. The people exemplify lifelong learning and Dublin Unified has continued to support them long after others let go of their programs.” In years past, many courses were offered at no cost. This year, a nominal fee is being charged. What is your forecast for what the entire Adult Education program might look like in ensuing years?

Bartley: “That is difficult to say. With the shifting realities of school funding in California, it is impossible to make predictions. My hope is that upcoming legislation will insure appropriate funding and a plan to keep Adult Education secure into the future. That said, our community responded positively when we had to start charging fees. Our students have stepped up and have done their part in sharing the costs, which helps enormously.”

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Students

During a break period, two students joined in for a brief chat. Both are enrolled in the ESL Level II class (Beginning/Intermediate). David Ossa has completed his high school diploma. He took advantage of the course to help him build grammar and conversational skills. Mr. Ossa will return to his native Columbia to commence university studies. Fan Annie Wong is a tri-valley resident and is a continuing student. She was enrolled in the Pleasanton program and was disappointed with its closure. However, she was motivated to continue. What made her the happiest is that her former instructor, Manette Barlow, followed her to Dublin Adult Education.

To fully understand the impact of Adult Education and the ESL curriculum, we sought out thoughts from teacher Aimee Auer. Ms. Auer attained her B.A. in Liberal Studies from San Diego State University and a subsequent Teaching Credential from the same institution. Furthermore, she enjoyed a summer immersion experience while living in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Aimee started her career as a bilingual teacher in the south bay in 1993. After starting her family and moving to Dublin, she was eager to return to the classroom. In 2002, Aimee began teaching ESL with adults in Pleasanton’s Adult Education program. When a similar program commenced in Dublin, Ms. Auer seized that opportunity and joined DUSD in 2005. Today, all three of her children are enrolled in Dublin schools. Compared to when you first joined the ESL program, what changes have you seen over time?

Aimee Auer: “The number one change I have seen is the increase in the number of students – paired with the multiple closures of Adult Education schools. The classes are overflowing and each of the classes offered here have a substantial wait list. I never recall having a wait list in the past.” What really hasn’t changed over the years?

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Classroom 4

Auer: “It’s the drive, the passion and the motivation of the students to learn English. They may have taken a one-hour bus ride to get to class. Or, they may have to squeeze in only an hour of instruction before having to go to work. Or, they may have driven to class with their new driver’s license… however they do it, they come to class. For many of them, the classes provide them with an opportunity to become not only more fluent in English, but also with also a feeling of being more connected to the community. Ultimately, it helps to provide them with a sense of belonging.” Describe the joys that you experience in watching your students grow and improve.

Auer: “The joys for me are innumerable. I know that I share this with any of the other teachers in this program. We are here 100% because of the people – our students. Seeing the students gather outside of the school to make a coffee date, lunch plans or to go shopping together – all in English. This makes an ESL teacher proud! It seems like everywhere I go, I run into former students at their places of work. It’s something that my children have become accustomed to now. From this, I feel that my children are learning an invaluable lesson about persistence and hard work.” What mechanisms do you employ to ensure that the class doesn’t become a lecture and that the students remain engaged?

Auer: “’Use it or lose it’ is a good motto for learning a language. Thus, the students must participate a lot. Lessons utilize various strategies including: pair/partner work, small group work, role-playing, songs, conversation starters, board games, actual telephone conversations, Rosetta Stone, mingle activities and many others. These kinds of activities that rely upon the students to produce language are the types that keep the students engaged and interested.”

Our brief exploration of Adult Education in Dublin was a revelation. While it is difficult to articulate, the energy and enthusiasm in the classrooms that we observed was palpable. In many cases, it was a group of strangers that were convening for the same reason – to ensure that their personal experience would be equal to any other English speaking citizen. If for no other reason, would like to commend the entire AE program and its staff for aiding the accomplishment of this goal.

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Teachers

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Teachers

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Classroom

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Classroom

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Classroom

Dublin Unified School District Adult Education Classroom


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