WATSONVILLE — A contingent of politicians, educators and residents gathered in Watsonville/Aptos/Santa Cruz Adult Education’s Rodriguez Street location Monday to help ring in the institution’s 90th anniversary.
With dozens of classes on tap, the school boasts more than 3,000 students and more than 100 teachers.
Adult education in California got its start in 1856 in a San Francisco church, giving newly arrived immigrants from China, Ireland and Italy a chance to learn English and gain skills needed to carve out a living for themselves and their families.
Watsonville got its version in 1928, and has provided the same services for the past nine decades. Many come hoping to improve their language skills or become a U.S. citizen, while others get their GED or high school diploma.
Many more come hoping to get a jump-start on a career, with courses such as Certified Nursing Assistant and Pharmacy Technician.
“We give people another chance,” said adult school Director Nancy Bilicich.
WASC took Santa Cruz Adult Education under its wing in 2016 after financial troubles threatened closure.
PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez praised the program, which she said has had an impact on the entire community.
“It provides an opportunity for our adult learners to have a place not only to express their passions but also to persevere,” she said. “A lot of times we have challenges and obstacles along the way in our lives, and many times at the moment that stops us. What I appreciate about adult ed is that it allows us to have opportunities past that obstacle.”
California Congressman Jimmy Panetta said that adult education helps people when they realize they want to make a change in their lives.
“It’s giving people the opportunity to pivot, to do what they need to do to stay in this community, and also be contributing to this community,” he said.
WASC student April Ortiz said she has struggled with poverty and occasional homelessness. At WASC, she said she has earned her GED and is planning to take classes that will help her earn a nursing degree.
“I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far without the amazing teachers who genuinely want their students to succeed,” she said.