English Language Program Expands to Coastside
Sequoia School Scholars helps with bus passes, books
Pedro Jeronimo’s weekday morning routine begins at 5:30 a.m. most days.
After walking to the bus stop at the corner of Main and Miramontes streets, he boards the 6:15 a.m. SamTrans bus. He transfers buses twice, before arriving at his destination by 7:35 a.m. He travels to Cañada College in Redwood City to take English classes four days a week. Later in the day, after four or five hours of homework, he repeats the trip in reverse, arriving home around 8 p.m, on some nights, he says.
In addition to his classes, Jeronimo, 31, works at two Half Moon Bay restaurants — busing dishes and running food Thursday through Saturday nights, and cooking Friday through Sunday mornings.
The schedule may be tough, but it’s no deterrent for him. Jeronimo says he was motivated to learn English by his younger brother, who also took English classes at Cañada.
“He speaks English very well, and he has a better job and makes more money than I do,” said Jeronimo, who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and moved to Half Moon Bay when he was 15. “He learned English, and I want to learn now.”
Jeronimo is one of around 180 adult students, mostly low-income immigrants, who are working to improve their English proficiency with support from the nonprofit Sequoia Adult School Scholars. While Jeronimo provides the grit and determination to make the trek over the hill to continue his English studies, SASS provides practical support like a Clipper card to pay his bus fares, funds to cover school books, and a laptop for studying.
Founded in 2009 by Elizabeth Weal, a former English-as-a-second-language teacher at Sequoia Adult School, the program started as a way for her students to attend English classes at Cañada College. Now, the program has expanded to support students from Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, Weal said.
Where once there were only four students, there are now nearly 200, most in their 20s and 30s like Jeronimo. Currently, five of them are from Half Moon Bay, said Weal.
“I saw this need, but I didn’t think it would be quite so complicated,” Weal said with a laugh.
The program supports students who have completed ESL classes at their local adult schools and want to continue their education at the college level. “Canada classes are more advanced, and students can take courses to transfer to a university or lead to a profession,” Weal said.
Funded entirely by donations and support from private foundations and nonprofits, the program “allows (adult students) to move out of jobs that don’t give them a lot of potential for economic advancement,” she said.
The potential in students like Jeronimo is what Weal aims to identify and support. She met him at an event earlier this fall to distribute laptops to SASS’s highest-achieving students.
“He managed to figure out his schedule to go to school Monday through Thursday and work Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” she said. “I thought his dedication was pretty amazing.”
During his three hours on the bus each day, Jeronimo reads and watches videos of English lessons. If he continues taking classes at his current rate, he’ll finish school in 2018. And then? “My ideal job is to be an electrician,” he says.