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Education: MH Community Adult School gives ‘second chance’ to older students

156 students earn their high school diplomas

Published in the June 22 – July 5, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Photo by Marty Cheek Morgan Hill Community Adult School graduates head toward the Live Oak High School theater for this year's commencement ceremony.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Morgan Hill Community Adult School graduates head toward the Live Oak High School theater for this year’s commencement ceremony.

At the age of 60, Rosemary Carranza proudly walked across the Live Oak High School theater stage and received her high school diploma. The single mother of five joined 64 other students June 9 and were cheered on by family and friends as they graduated from the Morgan Hill Community Adult School.

“There are so many paths to take in life and education. The Community Adult School provides the less traveled path but all the same takes students to their dreams and further aspirations,” said MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando. “We are so proud of the great work this program does for our community. The entire South County is honored and very fortunate to have the leadership of (Principal) Dennis Browne, who has been the developer, caretaker, protector and champion of the adult education programs.”

At the end of the 2015-2016 school year,156 adult students were eligible to graduate from the Morgan Hill Community Adult School. With an average annual enrollment of 750 students, the school plays an integral role in helping adults in Morgan Hill and the surrounding area fulfill their diploma requirements, take test prep classes for their high school diploma equivalency test, or enroll in English as a Second Language classes, Betando said. Opened in 1972, the school has seen tens of thousands of students pass through its doors on their way to better careers, higher education or learning a new language.

Photo by Marty Cheek The graduates prepare to toss their caps at the end of the ceremony.

Photo by Marty Cheek
The graduates prepare to toss their caps at the end of the ceremony.

Graduate Carranza spoke of her difficult life and the hardships she has faced, but also spoke words of encouragement to others who have not taken that step to finish school.

“Education has no age limit,” she said. “I challenge those of you who wish to receive your diploma or high school equivalency to take that first step and just do it.”

She thanked the school staff and in particular Principal Dennis Browne for helping her throughout this journey.

Every student who enrolls at the school is at a different stage in their education, Browne said. Some only need 10 or 20 credits to complete their diploma, while others need as many as 80 credits. Over the past five years, the school has awarded 251 adult high school diplomas and 211 high school equivalency diplomas. It is located in the former Central High School site a few blocks north of downtown Morgan Hill.

Browne, who became principal in 2000, has seen more than 14,000 adults enroll in the school’s classes. “Seventy-five percent of our students come from Morgan Hill,” he said of the student make-up. “We have students from Gilroy, Hollister, San Jose, all over South County.”

Photo by Kimberly Beare Graduate Rosemary Carranza addresses the audience.

Photo by Kimberly Beare
Graduate Rosemary Carranza addresses the audience.

Describing his thoughts about completing his sixteenth year as principal, Browne said, “I feel a great sense of achievement and accomplishment in working with these adults, who are so motivated, and in being able to watch them complete their education. Every student has their own story of why they didn’t graduate high school. To come back as an adult, to persevere through whatever life has thrown at them and complete their education is an enormous testament to their drive. I’m very proud of what we have helped them accomplish at this school.”

Pam Goonetilleke, an English as a Second Language teacher and 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year, said the classes the school offers are vital to the Morgan Hill community.

“We serve students that will not or who cannot go to Gavilan or local universities for various reasons,” she said. “Our staff is here to help them overcome barriers, encourage them to keep going and that can make all the difference in their lives.”

Describing the adult students, Goonetilleke said, “I have a great deal of respect for them and the effort they put in to learn English. Most of my students work all day, have families at home, and still make it to class and finish their studies. They are working towards better lives for the families. It’s an honor to work with them.”

Under the leadership of Browne, the school continues to work with other schools in the area to build a stronger network and coordinate programs better. MHUSD is now working with the Gilroy Unified School District to help them rebuild their adult learning program. The goal is to help more students make progress toward their diploma and then go onto college or into a Career Technical Education program.

The high school diploma program offers the same core high school classes through independent study and Cyber High, as a student receives on a high school campus. Students meet with their teacher at various times during the week to answer questions, take their tests, and make certain they are on the right track. Through federal and state funding, enrollment is free to all students. Most classes are held at night to accommodate students with jobs and family responsibilities. Enrollment is open to all adults ages 18 and over.

Graduates received their diplomas, a handshake and enthusiastic congratulations from Betando, Santa Clara County Superintendent Jon Gundry, MHUSD Board President Bob Benevento, trustees Ron Woolf and Rick Badillo and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ramon Zavala.
For more information about Morgan Hill Community Adult School and its programs, visit www.adultschool.mhusd.org. Registration for next year’s classes begins Aug. 1.