Friday, June 6, 2003 | 11:06 a.m.
This is adult education in Clark County:
"The message here is that it's never too late," Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent of instruction for the Clark County School District, said following a graduation ceremony Thursday night for the adult education program. "For anyone who values education, the opportunities are out there if you put in the effort."
More than 300 adult education students walked the stage at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday. It was the second day of graduations in two weeks of commencement ceremonies for the Clark County School District's 33 regular high schools and alternative programs.
In fact some of the adult education students, like Jaime Carranza, wound up with diplomas from the campuses they left just a year ago.
Carranza signed up for adult education after a failing grade in math kept him graduating from Valley High School in 2002. The district allows adult education students to earn diplomas from their "home schools," provided they had completed at least 10 credits there before dropping out.
"I missed out on the whole graduation experience," said Carranza, who proudly flashed his gold Valley High School class ring set with large sapphire-colored stone. "Today sort of makes up for it."
Other graduates, like Jorday Vanemmerik, found the pomp and circumstance unnecessary, but donned cap and gown at the urging of family and friends.
"I'm walking for my mom," Vanemmerik, 17, said. "Be sure to say I'm doing this for my mom, and all will be good. Oh yeah, and for my girlfriend, Becky. You better put that in there, too."
In the past 10 years, Clark County's adult education program has swelled to more than 10,000 students with an annual budget of $6.9 million, said director Claudette Whitson. The program offers day and evening classes at more than 40 locations, independent study programs and opened its first full-time high school two years ago. This year the program graduated 500 seniors and helped another 1,000 people earn their GEDs.
There is no cost to students, provided they are not enrolled in another high school program. Students attending Clark County schools may earn credits through adult education for a fee.
Taylor, who has three sons, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said she enrolled in the program "just to see if I could do it."
Math was her hardest subject.
"It took about five months to get algebra through my dumb skull," Taylor explained as she waited with the rest of the graduates in the tunnel leading into the auditorium. "I have to say I'm pretty darned proud of myself for sticking it out."
Bautista and Torres make up another important part of the adult education equation -- people who came to work in Clark County after dropping out of high school in another state.
"The fast food jobs weren't all bad. At some places I was even a manager," said Bautista, who has four children ranging from 1 month to 12 years old. "But I want my kids to know school doesn't stop when you get a job at Del Taco. It stops when you can honestly say you've made something of yourself."
In an effort to improve Nevada's high school dropout rate -- one of the nation's worst -- state Superintendent Jack McLaughlin has asked adult education administrators to re-focus efforts to bring in 18- to 24-year- olds, Whitson said.
Given that 1,600 seniors from the class of 2003 failed the math portion of the statewide proficiency exam, Whitson said she expects this summer and the coming fall to be the busiest in years. The first cram sessions begin later this month with the next sitting of the exam in July.
"It's going to be a challenge but I know we're up to it," Whitson said.