Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

Evans Community Adult School has been called Los Angeles’ Ellis Island, where immigrants from all over the world learn English and become part of mainstream California. During the bus strike, the school saw its attendance drop nearly one third; this semester, 15,000 students are enrolled. Now the 32-day strike may be over, but problems related to the walkout are expected to continue long after the buses start rolling.

“The bus strike hurt us more than at many other schools because we are basically a commuter school,” said assistant school principal Roberto Ceja. “That’s because we are the only adult school that is open from 7 in the morning to 9 at night.”

Now school officials are faced with the task of tracking down students who missed classes. The fear is that they may have dropped out for the semester and have no plans to return on their own. The stakes are financial: When students aren't in class, Evans receives less money, because school funding is tied to attendance figures. School officials are considering appealing to the state, in the hope that the campus would not be held responsible for the shortage of students caused by the bus strike. School officials estimate the amount of money lost during the first two weeks of the strike at $300,000.

Ninety percent of Evans’ students rely on the bus to get to school, said Janet MacLeod, assistant principal of counseling. Except for a few who live nearby in Chinatown, students who have managed to continue attending classes have either carpooled or taken cabs. “The strike has hurt the poorest of the students,” MacLeod said. “They are the ones who are barely learning English.”

Most of Evans’ students are enrolled in English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes. The school runs 45 classrooms, each with five classes per day, with anywhere from 30 to 60 students per class. When operating in full swing, classes run every day but Sunday. Evans is the largest adult school in Los Angeles. Its program is geared toward teaching English to immigrants, leading to a high school diploma. The school is so popular that some students commute to Evans from as far away as Lancaster. Evans also offers advanced English and citizenship classes, as well as training for entry-level jobs.

Nice Perez, an ESL student who missed two weeks of classes, said that in her two years at Evans, this was by far the lowest attendance she has seen. She was forced to miss classes when she couldn’t find someone to drive her to school.

Hayde Guzman, 65, has relied for two years on three buses to get to Evans from her Pasadena home. During the strike, she had to rely on a fellow student to get to school. An immigrant from El Salvador, Guzman arrived in the United States 25 years ago. Two years ago, she began taking the English and citizenship classes at Evans that helped her pass her U.S. naturalization test.

Besides helping her get by, learning English has opened a new world for Guzman. She can speak to and understand her grandchildren. The friendly school environment and the passionate instructors are now part of her life, she said.

Under the state's stringent new rules, Evans officials worry no consideration will be given to the vast problems caused by the bus strike. MacLeod said school administrators may ask for a waiver, but it is unclear whether the state will grant it.

School administrators hope to get back some of the missing students through a mail campaign, MacLeod said. But the chances that all of the students enrolled in the current trimester will come back are slim. “This is going to be a nightmare for us in terms of trying to catch up with all these people,” said Sylvia Martinez, an ESL teacher for 30 years. “One of the reasons is that it has been too long. They get out of the habit. They’re afraid that they can’t catch up,” Martinez said. “But I still get calls from students saying, ‘Please don’t drop me, please don’t drop me.’”

LA Weekly