Anderson Valley Adult School: It’s never too late to learn

by Maria Goodwin, Real Estate Magazine, May 2007

If the goal of education is to teach self-sufficiency in all phases of life, Anderson Valley Adult School gets an A+ for its efforts. The school, which formed in 1992, has evolved beyond what anyone could have envisioned in the beginning and today serves a growing population, often with surprising results. Barbara Goodell, a former teacher at Anderson Valley Unified School District in Boonville, started adult school classes when Mendocino County Office of Education was successful in obtaining a three-year federal grant. “One of the first grants we received was the Family Literacy grant which was set up to teach immigrant parents English so that they could help their children with homework,” Goodell says. In 1995 when the grant ended, Anderson Valley Adult School received state sanction to form an adult school and AVAS grew with programs as diverse as its students.
Initially Goodell saw the formation of an adult school as a response to the pressing need in the Valley for teaching English to the influx of migrant workers, all eager to learn and help their children succeed in school.

The Adult School’s small staff had no idea how curriculum would evolve, but soon realized that a curriculum based on projects that reflect a variety of real life skills was vital. The school’s philosophy about the importance of education at any time in one’s life and that “…it’s never too late to learn,” drives teacher dedication and prompts hesitant adult learners to work towards their chosen goals.

“Self-sufficiency starts with what the individual learns—that strengthens that person as a parent, community member and worker,” Goodell continues. “It doesn’t do any good just to learn some English in the classroom and then go outside and not use it in everyday life. That’s the whole point––to absorb the language and use it daily.

To accommodate this, teachers and students worked together to assess exactly what the students actually wanted to learn. The practical applications of reading, writing, and speaking English were translated to learning skills needed for getting a job, going to the doctor, applying for a driver’s license, etc. “This project-based learning curriculum is episodic in design,” Goodell explains, “and always includes a computer component with actual useable dialogs for reading (road signs, for example), writing, (banking, filling out forms), math, (balancing a checkbook)—these tasks mimic real life situations. To fortify these classroom exercises, we took students out on field trips to practice. Practicing with native English-speakers helped them build on what they learned in the classroom. We used flashcards, games, diagrams––some students created their own set of flashcards and paired with less advanced students for peer tutoring.”

Adult School classes are not just for people seeking to learn English. Spanish classes are taught, attracting English-speakers who want to travel in Spanish-speaking countries. French-speaking interns from nearby wineries wanting to be able to converse with winery workers attend Spanish classes also. Classes throughout the year are taught days, evenings, and even during summer when there is sufficient funding. The current schedule offers GED [General Education Degree], Citizenship, parenting, English-as-a-Second-Language, Spanish, job skills, and music––a Big Band class as well as chorus.

The difficulty of working full-time, attending classes, studying and caring for a family in addition to learning a new language and culture can be daunting, but the success story of one Mexican immigrant shows these difficulties can be overcome.

Esther Soto’s story mirrors the experience of many immigrants who came to Anderson Valley. Immigrants arrived realizing the necessity of learning English in order to obtain employment, better jobs and possibly higher education. In 1980 Esther’s mom, dad and elder brother left their hometown in Mexico and secured work in Anderson Valley. Back in Mexico, Esther, with the help of relatives, was temporarily left in charge of her younger siblings until her parents were settled and could send for the rest of the family. With housing and jobs secured in the Valley, Esther and her younger brothers and sisters followed. Esther was thirteen.