Students graduate from EPIC program

GREENFIELD — On Friday, June 22, Greenfield’s Vista Verde Middle School hosted the graduation of 29 students who received their high school diploma and 35 English as a Second Language (ESL) students who were promoted to high school.

At Escuela Popular Instituto Campesino de Cesar Chavez (EPIC), an adult charter high school, students 18 and older have the opportunity to further their education.

EPIC is part of Farmworker Institute of Education and Leadership Development (FIELD) founded by Cesar Chavez in 1978.

EPIC students are able to complete grades nine through 12, receive a traditional curriculum and complete 180 credits to obtain their high school diploma, not a General Education Diploma or GED. The school has two high school teachers and four ESL.

All classes are conducted at the school, not online. The school schedule is from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Students who are not working must attend six hours weekly, while those working must attend 10.

According to Sergio Guzman, regional manager, “EPIC follows the same regulations as a public school,” but its class schedule is “flexible” to accommodate students’ needs. 

In his welcoming speech, Mayor Jesus Olvera-Garcia spoke about having been an ESL student 11 years ago. 

“I am still learning English,” he said.

Olvera-Garcia encouraged the students to “dream bigger.” He told them, “Continue with your education.” 

Keynote speaker Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas told the students, “You inspire me.” Salinas spoke about his own difficult decision to go to college; he had wanted to stay to help his father.

Of going away, he said, “College is difficult. It is a test of who you are, your character.” Like Olvera-Garcia, Salinas asked the students to continue with their education and to think about their next objective. 

“Education is important to our community,” he said. 

Melissa Melgoza, Teresita Lopez, Adelfo Isidro-Donato and Erika Serrano were the high school student speakers. Isidro-Donato, 21, a field worker, said his father had wanted him to stay in school. But, Isidro-Donato said, “I liked the money,” referring to getting paid for working in the fields. 

“Why study,” he asked himself. Now, he is grateful to EPIC for having given him a second opportunity.

Teacher’s assistant and mother of five, Serrano, 40, said of her education, “Now it’s my turn,” after raising her children, three of whom have graduated from high school.

Learning English to improve their communication skills, their lives and those of their families was why ESL students promoted to high school enrolled in EPIC. Angelica Isidro, a 47-year-old interpreter of Mixtec to Spanish, said she needed to improve her English so that she could interpret from Mixtec to Spanish to English. 

“I want to help my family who speak Mixteco,” she said. 

Natividad Sanchez, a 65-year-old homemaker, said, “I am proud of myself. I have learned a lot.” She has grandchildren with whom she would like to communicate. 

“I want to talk with them in their language (English) to understand them,” she said.

Rogelio Rojas, a 54-year-old driver, said, “I always wanted to learn English and get a better job.”

Like Rojas, 29-year-old machine operator Jose Favian Fijar spoke of bettering himself and said, “I want to help my children in the future.” 

President/CEO David Villarino, Chavez’s son-in-law, had the honor of accepting the Class of 2017. Villarino encouraged the students to “take risks.” He told them, “The future is in your hands.”

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