Not too old to learn

Jerry Yamashita teaches adult learners at Highlands Community Charter School in Sacramento. (Photo courtesy of Highlands Community Charter School)

Essay: Governor’s proposal to limit age of charter school students closes a door to those in need

By Jerry Yamashita

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently released May budget revision calls for an age cap on charter schools that would exclude students 27 or older. This oddly specific and targeted proposal, if passed by the Legislature, would eliminate more than 30 charter schools in California that serve about 10,000 adult learners, including 3,000 in the Sacramento area.

This would not only be a huge blow to our most vulnerable populations, but would also result in collateral damage to our state’s economy.

We at Highlands Community Charter School in Sacramento provide access to education, technology, communication and employment to some folks who need it most. This is a unique privilege, and not one that we or our students take for granted. Many of our students know exactly what it’s like to not have access to education, resources or even just someone to support them.

Patricia, a former student of mine, rode Regional Transit an hour each way, dropping her daughters off at school along the way, so that she could pursue her education. Despite homelessness and a history with the criminal justice system, she graduated in 2018 and was eventually able to create opportunities for herself that are helping to foster generational change.

But her story may have been so much different if not for programs like ours. In just a few days, opportunities for folks like Patricia could disappear.

Is it too late for the 70% of our students who are women with children? Or the 98% who qualify for free or reduced lunches? Or the 30% who are African American? Or the 85% non-native speakers who are dedicated to learning English every day? How about the 90% who would flat-out be denied access just because they are 27 or older? Is it too late for them?

“Let’s stop arguing about when, where and how our students should learn and get back to the real issue: What is working for our students?”

Jerry Yamashita is an instructional technologist at Highlands Community Charter School.

Adult-serving charter schools are not fly-by-night operations. Highlands operates under our authorizing school district, Twin Rivers Unified; our accrediting body, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges; and under federal guidelines set out by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

We pride ourselves on harnessing an innovative spirit to create opportunities every day for our students. Consider that while many adult-serving programs across the state are facing budget shortfalls and closures, we have successfully incorporated digital literacy across courses and put Chromebooks into the hands of every student who needs one. We do this because we know that three out of four new jobs in the Sacramento region require digital skills. How many agencies can claim the same success?

It’s time to understand that hard work, innovation and success are not the enemies. Let’s stop arguing about when, where and how our students should learn and get back to the real issue: What is working for our students?

What we do works and the data will bear this out. To date, 415 students who started in English Language Development classes were promoted into high school. And since 2015, 491 students and counting have earned their high school diplomas at Highlands Should there be an age cap on achievement?

Let’s not let the status quo dictate our future. Especially in this unprecedented time of COVID-19, we need to look for solutions, not impose restrictions due to something as arbitrary as age.

Is it ever too late to learn? As a lifelong learner, that concept is at odds with my very being. We can do better, California. We can lead. And we can learn together, regardless of age.

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5 Comments on "Not too old to learn"

  1. OPPOSE the AGE CAP on Pupils enrolled in Charter School! OPPOSE Inequality!

  2. Asya Grigoryan | May 26, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Reply

    IT’S NEVER TOO LATE to learn! This age cap will only amplify the already existing educational inequities by denying historically underserved adults 27 and older the quality education that they deserve. Let’s OPPOSE THE AGE CAP together!

  3. Adult education offers the opportunity for thousands of disenfranchised people to turn themselves into bastions of personal and economic development. All they need is opportunity. We can’t take that opportunity away from them. We can’t once more break the promises America makes, but often fails to keep. Just give them the chance. OPPOSE the AGE CAP on Pupils enrolled in Charter School!

  4. I also have witnessed the power of adult education to change lives. I teach English to adult students in Marysville. Many of our students work physically demanding jobs all day (in the fields, doing construction, sorting through garbage at a recycling center, roofing) and then come for four hours each evening to improve their language skills or study for their citizenship test. One of my students does not drive, so she walks several miles to come to class each day, sometimes through the rain. These students want to improve their lives, become more integrated into the community, and set an example for their children. Please don’t take this opportunity away from them! Not only will it be devastating to them, but it will also be a huge loss to the community. Thank you for the article Jerry!

  5. Kate Thirkill | May 28, 2020 at 8:34 am | Reply

    Jerry does an excellent job of summarizing this issue. I teach English to adults in Citrus Heights and the Arden-Arcade area in Sacramento. In both cases, most of my students are retirement age and are striving to become active citizens of the United States. At the adult school, the students learn about important topics that can help them better engage in their communities such as practicing conversations for the doctor’s office, DMV, and law enforcement. This knowledge returns home with them to their families and neighbors so that the lessons learned have a far-reaching effect on more than our students. Without access to adult schools, I am unsure of where my students would be able to learn English and the necessary information needed to engage in their communities. We can either empower these individuals with knowledge and resources or we can pass this age-cap amendment and leave these individuals behind to fend for themselves. I’m with Jerry, let’s oppose this age cap on pupils enrolled in charter schools in California.

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