‘The best-kept secret in California’: Berkeley Adult School offers language, career education courses

Leonie Leonida/Staff

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Since 1881, the Berkeley Adult School, or BAS, has provided English as a second language, career and technical education courses to help the city’s adult learners achieve their career and personal goals.

The school, which is located at 1701 San Pablo Ave., was originally founded to serve Berkeley’s immigrant population, helping mostly Chinese and Irish immigrants learn English and skills such as carpentry, said BAS Principal Thomas Reid. Reid added that the bulk of BAS’ students continue to be immigrants attending ESL courses.

“Our main target is immigrants,” Reid said. “We want to help them settle and adapt.”

Of the more than 4,800 students who were enrolled at BAS for the 2017-18 academic year, more than 2,000 were ESL students, according to an emailed document from BAS Vice Principal LaRanda Marr. An additional 1,500 were seeking a high school diploma or GED certificate — the second-most popular course offered by BAS.

In addition to ESL classes and the high school diploma or GED program, BAS offers technical training to teach students how to operate computers and medical devices. The school also offers technical training in elderly care to prepare students for careers as home-care aides.

BAS also has a cafeteria that serves freshly baked goods from the student-run kitchen. Venezuelan immigrant Sonia Fernandez, a former BAS ESL student who currently works at the cafeteria, said learning English helped her find a job in Berkeley.

“The teachers are amazing, very friendly,” Fernandez said. “It’s very important to learn English.”

Fernandez’s appreciative opinion of the teachers is a sentiment shared with current ESL student Elizabeth Zeledon, who said BAS is an important place to make new friends and get a cup of coffee in the morning.

BAS employee Silvia Curiel said the school now has college counselors to advise students who want to pursue higher education. Curiel added that many BAS students do choose to pursue higher education, citing a sizable number of students who ask for transcripts and other documentation for college applications.

“We have the job to serve the people who didn’t get the diploma earlier,” Reid said. “Now is the right time for those people.”

For those not interested in learning technical skills, English or finishing their diploma, BAS also offers traffic school and classes on foreign languages, finance, music, exercise — Reid even said he takes tai chi classes. The school also offers courses designed for adults with disabilities, including a wheelchair basketball class, which encourages adults to “go fast” and “be aggressive,” Reid said.

BAS is open to anyone 18 or over — Curiel said there are 80-year-old students attending BAS. She added that BAS offers a diverse and welcoming community.

“The world comes to me. … I’ve learned about cultures and foods,” Curiel said. “The students come back because this is home, they feel safe here … they feel welcome.”

Curiel said many former students have found jobs using the skills they have learned at BAS, citing one former English student who used their newly acquired skills to get a job as a mail carrier. She added that many students return to obtain certification for computer training and to find employment.

Though not all of the classes offered at BAS are free, Reid said they are “reasonable and accessible” and help to cover the cost of operating the school. Classes such as those for ESL students are free and funded by the public, according to Reid.

“We’re the best-kept secret in California,” Reid said. “We’re just excited to serve anyone who could benefit.”

Contact Leon Chen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @leonwchen.