The Long Beach School for Adults will be introducing a new resource center in the coming months in an effort to better support student success.
For the over 800 students who study at the adult school—which offers resources like English as a second language classes, high school equivalency test preparation courses, high school diploma programs and employment programs—a resource center is a piece that has been missing, according to new principal Nicole Lopez.
The center will serve as a centralized location for students to connect to community resources, use a food pantry and clothing closet, attend wellness and educational workshops ranging from yoga to financial management, use computers, and just connect with each other. While work is currently underway to set up the facility, and staff have already begun collecting clothing, Lopez hopes that the center will “soft launch” in the fall.
This type of facility has been needed for some time, but the timing wasn’t quite right until now, Lopez said, because this was an accreditation year for the school, which involved a self-study. Based on Western Association of Schools and Colleges criteria, an accreditation year offers an opportunity to determine where the barriers are for the students, Lopez said.
Plus, since the pandemic, there’s been an added urgency to meeting students’ needs—a sentiment that has been echoed across the Long Beach Unified School District with the recent implementation of wellness centers across district high schools, Lopez said.
While the future resource center won’t look exactly like the high school’s wellness centers, all of the site’s offerings are intended to support student success, said Lopez.
“If people don’t feel good, if people don’t have basic needs met or what they need, then how can they do well in school?” she said.
Challenges for adult students
While the school serves adults of all ages, most are between the ages of 40 and 55, and some have not been in a school environment in decades, Lopez said.
As part of the LBUSD, the school looks and operates much like a K-12 school, which can be more welcoming to an adult who may be intimidated by a college atmosphere, after being out of school for 30 or 40 years, Lopez said.
“It’s not an institutional feel like a college feels, where people don’t know who you are,” Lopez said.
Ideally, some students complete a program within a year, but some spend a decade in and out of school, Lopez said.
“It’s not that they aren’t being successful. It’s that life gets in the way, and they have to stop coming,” Lopez said. “They’re here because they’re new to our country learning to speak English, or they’re here because high school didn’t work for them … something got in the way. Then sometimes things get in the way now, because they’re adults that have responsibilities.”
This year, about 1,300 people have been involved in an adult school program in some capacity, although enrollment is only set at about 850, Lopez said. She estimated that about 80-90% of adult school students would be considered “Title I,” a K-12 designation for students that are low-income, she said.
At the adult school, ESL and high school classes are all free to students, however, there is a cost involved for the high school exam, Lopez said. But scholarships are available.
Providing everything the students need, though, can be difficult. Although the adult school is part of the school district, it is largely grant-funded, which can be challenging, Lopez said.
To compensate, the adult school heavily relies on partnerships with other community groups, such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Pacific Gateway, among others, and even more community outreach will be needed to implement the upcoming food pantry in particular, Lopez said.
“Nobody’s giving us money to build a student center,” Lopez said. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do for our students.”
Moving forward from its past
Over the years, funding for the school has fluctuated, Lopez said. For instance, while the adult school has served as a community resource for nearly 100 years, its present form has been around since the mid ‘90s, when it stopped relying on average daily attendance—or ADA—funding, Lopez said.
A lot of education funding is “political,” she added, as it is often reliant on state and federal funding, and about 10 years ago, the School for Adults was close to shutting down due to lack of funds.
Financial support ultimately came through, keeping the school’s doors open. But since then, the School for Adults has been shuffled between multiple locations before returning to its original home, where Lopez hopes the school will stay, she said.
“Other programs started coming in and took precedence,” Lopez said. “That doesn’t really help with morale of a program.”
As a result, Long Beach School for Adults teachers haven’t always felt the most valued by the district, Lopez said.
However, the tides have started to turn for the Long Beach School for Adults, as it has started to become more of a priority, Lopez said. One example is with the custodial class—while employment classes in general have not been free for students, this one will become district-funded starting next year.
“In working with the teachers, I think collectively, we feel like we’ve been given a seat at the table,” Lopez said.
Prior to Lopez beginning her role as principal, the school was instead led by an assistant principal, Lopez explained.
As principal, Lopez is now able to make decisions that an assistant principal couldn’t, in the best interests of students, such as changing a schedule or adding a course, without navigating through the same “bureaucratic red tape” facing a K-12 school or even a college, Lopez said.
“It does make a difference what your title is,” Lopez said. “I think the district making this spot a principal was a move in the right direction to say, ‘OK, I we need to look at this a little bit differently.’”
The future of the Long Beach School for Adults
Since joining the school, Lopez has been on a mission to “put the Long Beach School for Adults on the map,” and the student center is the first step.
“There’s great value in what we do at adult school,” Lopez said.
Data shows that roughly a quarter of Long Beach’s population—about 125,000 residents—could benefit from adult education services, whether it’s ESL, obtaining a diploma or employment assistance, Lopez said.
“We’re not hurting for enrollment. We have waiting lists for our programs—that’s really not what it’s about,” Lopez said. “But it’s about making sure that we have a strong representation of Long Beach School for Adults out in the community.”
Further strengthening community partnerships will also be a step in the right direction, she said. While many organizations currently contribute to the school’s success, she envisions a “one-stop shop” one day being offered onsite, she said.
The adult school shares a site with Reid High School, meaning the first step to creating a resource center involves “going over real estate,” said Lopez, although she already has a potential site for the resource center in mind, with hopes of having it confirmed within the next month.
Some day, she hopes for the school to have its own campus, which will allow the programs to grow even further, Lopez said.
While it will take increasing funds to be able to have even more teachers and classes, there is a significant community need, she said.
“We positively affect lives, in the sense that these adults are able to be better contributors in our society because they’ve been provided with either workforce skills or an education to get them a job or a better job, or learning how to speak English,” Lopez said.
But in the meantime, apart from providing access to crucial resources, Lopez hopes that the center will become a space for students to convene and connect.
“We have folks from all different walks of life. We have ESL students who are new to our country who speak no English, and we have ones who have been here for some time or came knowing some English. We represent 47 different countries. … And we really see the desire for our students to want to get to know each other and be together,” Lopez said.
“I just can’t express the importance of: This is the right thing to do. We need to have a space for our students so that they can build a community among each other and get additional support in a place that is there for them,” Lopez added. “We’re missing this piece, and it’s been missing for some time.”
More information about the Long Beach School for Adults can be found here.