South Bay Adult School 100 year anniversary

To understand the diversity in the South Bay, just visit the South Bay Adult School where more than 60 countries and at least 50 languages are represented among 600 students.

On Thursday, the school celebrated International Day where students wore traditional clothes from their home countries and shared something about their heritage.

Mostly, though, it was opportunity to share food as students gathered in the auditorium for lunch, cultural dances and just enjoyed each other’s company.

This year marks the South Bay Adult School’s 100-year anniversary. International Day highlighted the school’s evolution over the past century by putting school’s diversity on full display.

“It’s really cool because you get to learn more and more about people and where they are from and just different parts of the world that I hope to one day be able to travel to and explore,” said Director Anthony Taranto.

When the school first started in 1918, as World War I raged on, the emphasis was on preparing industrial workers for the war effort. After World War II, the school transitioned to putting baby boomers to work.

Today, South Bay Adult School functions largely as a school for English language learners while also preparing students for the workforce, Taranto explained.

“The idea behind adult school has really shifted from being here to learn the language, to learning the language in context of helping students achieve their personal goals, helping them be more successful at home, in the community, in the workplace and in further education,” Taranto said.

Together through partnerships with El Camino College and the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, the school is able to bridge those gaps for students in finding employment and seeking higher education, Taranto said.

Taranto led a visitor around the campus, entering classrooms where students delivered presentations using Google Slides. Some featured landmarks from places such as Paris and Ecuador. Others showcased unique fruits and vegetables and other heritage traditions.

“What we’re trying to do is integrate the skills we are teaching throughout the school year and then do performing arts and share food from their country, because food brings people together obviously,” Taranto said.

Classes at the South Bay Adult School are free of charge, though students must pass a screening process to make sure they are a right fit. Funding comes from a combination of state and federal sources through the Adult Education Block Grant and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Grant.

Hernan Kumen and his wife Lilliana Franco represent a typical success story for the school. Coming from Colombia two years ago, Kumen had trouble finding work as an architect even though he was trained in his home country.

Through the South Bay Adult School, Kumen improved his English and earned an architect license in the United States. Now he works for a construction company in Gardena.

“It’s a good job the people are doing here,” he said.

For Hoa Nguyen from Vietnam, the day was an opportunity to try many types of food she never tried before.

“It’s something so amazing,” she said. “Everybody is different and from different cultures and different generations.”

Lucy Wilson from Africa said attending the school has given her the opportunity to experience cultures she previously only saw on television or read about it in books.

“The different cultures are very nice,” she said. “I really enjoy it.”

For Brett Ploumen, who works as a counselor at the school, it’s extremely rewarding work as he sees the progress students are making to improve their lives.

“I see the pride that the students have,” Ploumen said. “It creates opportunities for those who might be kind of shy to step out and showcase what their knowledge is.”

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