By IKU KIRIYAMA
It used to be known simply as “night school” back in the ’50s (even as far back as the ’40s, but I was barely a toddler then and have no memories). Images of immigrants going tiredly after a full day’s work to learn English so they could hope for a better life for themselves and their children.
Later, there were citizenship classes where they could make their first steps to becoming full-fledged Americans.
Teachers were mostly daytime teachers, moonlighting to make extra money to supplement the low wages they made.
By the time I left teaching at Monroe High School in 1971 to raise a family and later returned in the late ’70s in the adult division, “night school” had become adult education, with day and evening classes.
In addition to English as a second language (ESL) and citizenship classes, there were classes for “older adults,” which met the social and physical needs of neighborhood senior citizens — no longer just immigrants but born and bred American citizens.
“Gerontology” was a huge department at the Gardena Community Adult School, bringing in as much ADA (average daily attendance, which determined per-pupil funding) as ESL.
Another great need was met in adult ed. High school students who had difficulties in the regular program went to get credits for graduation in the afternoon as concurrent students. With Academic Basic Education (ABE), these students with a myriad of problems found an environment that gave them a second chance to turn their lives around.
Many ESL students went on to get their GED diplomas (high school equivalency); their first step to better jobs and/or higher education.
My first assignments at Gardena CAS were in Japanese language, ESL and gerontology (did oral histories at GVJCI and read stories and articles during the activity hour at South Bay Keiro). Later, I taught citizenship and independent study.
It was during independent study that I had teenage moms who had dropped out of school, young adults returning to get their GEDs — and a parolee. I was so surprised when I was asked to complete an evaluation for this young man by his parole officer. He had no tattoos, dressed appropriately, never missed a class and did all his assignments, and behaved politely and respectfully towards me.
On Feb. 4, 2011, Gardena CAS was renamed for my late husband, who had served as assistant principal and principal at the school, and one term as school board member for District 7, which included the Gardena schools. It became the George Kiriyama Community Adult School.
Soon after, Sid Yamazaki, longtime friend and fellow adult ed colleague of George’s, proposed giving scholarships to graduates of the academic program.
Friends and fellow LAUSD colleagues of George donated generously, and we gave two $500 scholarships in June 2011 and two $500 scholarships at this past June’s commencement.
As I sat at both ceremonies, I was struck by how different the student speeches likely were from those given at upper-income schools, such as Torrance and Palos Verdes. These student speakers at the George Kiriyama Community Adult School commencements spoke of their past lives; their faces and voices revealing their pride and knowledge that the opportunity to turn their lives around was possible because of their time spent at GKCAS with the support of their families and teachers.
The obstacles they had hurdled included: bouncing around in the foster care system, drugs, gangs, teen pregnancies, poverty.
One of the teachers last year shared her story, which reflected the same stories as her students. She told of her epiphany that led her to return to school through adult ed and to become a teacher to help students to lead productive lives.
The students that received the scholarships had GPAs of 3.8 to 4.0 and were going into medicine, music, sciences. One student speaker (not a scholarship recipient) spoke of her goal to go into law enforcement.
Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka (also second-in-command under Sheriff Lee Baca) said to her as she passed by us in the receiving line, “Hope to see you in the Sheriff’s Department.”
Now, except for the I.I. (individualized instruction) Lab, all classes at George Kiriyama Community Adult School have closed down. The staff and teachers have been dismissed with the I.I. Lab under the supervision of the high school.
In fact, 20 of the 30 adult schools have been shuttered. Only schools on their own campuses not attached to a high school are remaining open.
To save the “body,” the superintendent and L.A. Board of Education cut off the “limbs.”
I’m skeptical that the needs of the students, such as the ones I saw at the commencement ceremonies, will be adequately met.
My opinion is that such a drastic move was possible is due to the lack of understanding of adult education in the K-12 mindset of the decision-makers. When George sat on the school board, all his fellow board members learned what adult ed was because George was there to support it and be a watchdog.
And the lack of public protest also reflects the general lack of understanding that adult education had come a long way since the days of “night school” by meeting the needs of the diverse and broad cross-section of communities.
Iku Kiriyama is a retired LAUSD educator and the widow of George Kiriyama, former LAUSD board member.