By Susan Taylor
January 15, 2023 (El Cajon) - “Now I Know my ABCs.” So sang the five Afghani women in a recent English as a Second Language class in El Cajon at the Regional Center on East Main Street. On this, day the men from Afghanistan were absent, as often happens, since some have one or more jobs. Only two of the students in the class were from Mexico, a reflection of changing demographics.
Not only did the students know the English alphabet, they had also learned the names of household items, chores, occupations, health and safety terminology and basic practical phrases useful for banking and shopping.
Immigrants and refugees and any adults over 18 years of age can enroll at the El Cajon Adult Center at 1075 E. Madison Avenue, next to El Cajon Valley High School. When students come to register, they are given a test to determine the class level that is best for them. Classes range from Pre-Literacy on up to Vocational ESL, all taught by credentialed teachers who are enthusiastic and dedicated.
One English learner named Odila Molina Gonzalez recommends the classes is “because good teachers help with my life.”
Dina Ahmad smiled broadly and said, “I like school because I learn English.”
Other reasons to like Grossmont Union District’s Adult Continuing Education program are that it promotes lifelong learning, community cooperation, fact-based learning practices, and it is free. With some 50 teachers spread out in schools in El Cajon, Santee, Spring Valley and Blossom Valley, there are classes to accommodate most students’ hours. The three-hour classes begin at 8 a.m. and continue until 9 p.m.
El Cajon Adult Center is actively seeking teachers and using substitute teachers to begin new classes in even more sites. After two years of being closed to the evening adult school during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chase Elementary is again opening space.
Over the years, the populations being served have changed. In the 1980s and ‘90s, the majority of students were immigrants or refugees from Viet Nam, Russia, or Iran. The number of native Spanish-speakers has always been high, and in the early 2000’s students coming from Somalia, Eritrea, China, and Cambodia were common. Iraqis and Syrians are enrolled in intermediate and advance classes since they have found homes in El Cajon over the last decade.
Currently, according to Lydia White, administrative assistant at ECAC, “from what I’ve seen, the largest group now is people from Afghanistan.” For Afghanis in warring provinces who were cut off from getting an education, and especially for the women forbidden by the Taliban from going to school, getting an education is a great opportunity.
The program registers students all year, White, said, adding, “It’s been non-stop.”
Teaching ESL is rewarding. . .