2008-08-22 / Schools

At Simi Valley Adult School, the learning never ends

Variety, cost and flexibility keep students coming from across the county
By Stephanie Bertholdo bertholdo@theacorn.com

The high cost of college may be beyond the reach of many California families, but an alternative path to a successful career exists in the heart of Simi Valley.

The Simi Valley Adult School and Career Institute, the 18th largest publicly funded vocational career tech school in California, offers a broad scope of reasonably priced, comprehensive programs for students of all ages.

An open house on Aug. 16 showcased a multitude of classes and certificate programs designed to help people get jobs, discover a new hobby or make up credits to earn a high school diploma, according to Principal Judy Perkins.

"There are such a variety of programs," said Diana Batista, one of three assistant principals at the school.

True enough. The school offers certification programs in Web design, graphic arts, cosmetology, welding, upholstery, machinist training, business, art, real estate and more.

The business coursework is extensive. The open entry courses, which allow students to begin a class any time, include introductory computer classes, computer literacy for high school students and classes on several business applications, including MS Word, PowerPoint, Windows and "Internet for Business." Stephanie Belding, a business class instructor and department chair, conducted demonstrations throughout the day.

Medical programs are plentiful at the school. Students can train to become an emergency medical technician (EMT), licensed vocational nurse, surgical or X-ray technician, or respiratory therapist. Less intensive programs include classes to earn certification as a medical assistant, billing clerk, physical therapy aide or pharmacy technician.

The surgical tech teachers conducted a mock surgery at the open house. Jobs are available to students who complete the one-year course, Perkins said.

Sterling Johnson, an EMT instructor, said the school has the capacity to train 200 students each year. Once the 120 hours of theoretical/practical skills coursework and 10 hours of clinical work, including ride-alongs with Ventura County EMTs, are completed, a student is ready to take the National Registry Exam to be certified as an EMT-1 in California for two years. Johnson said the certificate is also accepted in several other states.

Christine Kingston heads the respiratory therapy program, the only program on campus to offer an AA degree, she said.

"All courses are baccalaureate level," Kingston said. "The program offers a nontraditional pathway of getting college level courses."

Respiratory therapist student Simon Mata said the 20-month course of studies has "been awesome."

Some programs blend community service with learning. Dental technician students work with patients of the Simi Valley Free Clinic. The students make dentures and other appliances for people who could not otherwise afford dental services.

Computer graphics courses at the school are so popular, Perkins said, some students travel from San Diego or Santa Barbara to attend classes.

"They can't find some of these classes anywhere else," she said. "And the cost is so reasonable it's worth their while to (either) commute or find a place to stay during the week."

The certificated computer graphics program offers classes in animation, computer drafting and design, Web design and multimedia, said instructor Debra Aquino.

"Everybody wants to learn PhotoShop," she said.

Seniors, English learners

Simi Valley Adult School also offers classes for senior citizens, defined as 50 years old and above.

Jackie Swall has been taking ceramics classes at the school with instructor Ellen Sherman. "It's the best and busiest class in the senior center," Swall said.

The quilting class is another popular class for seniors.

Many of the quilts they create are donated to the Battered Women's Foundation and a program called RAIN, a transitional living center in Camarillo.

Other art classes include watercolor, tole painting, oil painting and woodcarving.

Physical fitness classes, including aquatics and aerobics classes, stretching classes and a "balance check" course to reduce falls, are also offered to seniors.

For students who want to learn how to speak and read English, the school's language lab includes stateoftheart equipment, including computerized "smart boards" and programs that help students with word pronunciation.

Cost

Classes may be free of charge—for high school diploma classes and the English as a Second Language program—or cost up to $3,000 to become a licensed vocational nurse.

Certain classes like woodcarving, held once a week, cost $15 per semester; the Saturday senior quilting class costs $10 for five lessons.

Some courses are a series taken over several months while others are completed in just a day or during the span of a week, said Michele Arso, the school's newest assistant principal.

"Some classes are through an application process; some are through a lottery, and others are ongoing," Arso said.

There are evening and weekend classes—even a motorcycle class conducted on Friday evenings with scheduled weekend rides, she said.

Registration open

To enroll in a class, visit the school at 1880 Blackstock Ave., across from Apollo High School, Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

After Sept. 8, weekday registration hours will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, contact the school at (805) 5796200 or visit www.simi.tec.ca.us.

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