Adult education is the back-burner topic when it comes to the spectrum of education issues. After all, it doesn't involve children, so it's not on the public's radar as much as K-12 education.
However, it's a big part of the mission of our local school districts, especially when it comes to teaching English to recent immigrants. Miami-Dade's busiest adult education facility is actually called The English Center.
"You could've been a lawyer in your native land, or an engineer, but if you don't command English then you don't command anything, so they know that and they want to improve their lot in life," said The English Center's principal, Yamila Carballo.
The English Center operates seven days a week, mornings and evenings, because the demand for its services is so great.
17-year-old student Javier Blanco, who arrived from Cuba just eight months ago speaking only Spanish, now speaks passable English thanks to the lessons he's experienced at the Center. He's on track to follow his dream of becoming a pharmacist.
"The first step is learning English, the second one is go to college," Blanco said.
But there's much more than English being taught at the English Center. For example, students can earn cosmetology certification in less than one year. Nails, hair, facials, everything it takes to be marketable in the industry.
"This is a great opportunity, in a short time they have a great job," said Ada Alvarez, the director of the cosmetology program.
The Center is one-stop shopping for careers. Many of the students take English plus a training class to learn a trade, such as air conditioning repair or computer network management. There's even free on-site child care for parents, and the day care area doubles as a training ground for grown-ups who want to become certified day care workers.
Carballo acknowledges Spanish-speaking immigrants can survive here on Spanish alone, but questions that strategy.
"You can get by cleaning, you can get by doing laundry, you can get by as a housekeeper, absolutely, but do you want to just get by, or do you want to improve and better yourself?" Carballo said.
She calls her school the hidden gem of Miami, and said it's an unparalleled bargain. Students may qualify for Pell Grants or other financial aid, but even full price here is much better than retail.
"The prices that we command are what I would call rock bottom prices, $2.60 an hour. That's nothing when you have private institutions asking for $8,000 or $10,000 per career," Carballo said.
One more thing: This adult education center isn't only for adults. High school-age kids who aren't doing well in traditional school can come here for GED prep classes.
"We have so many opportunities for the young ones, the middle age ones, the old ones, everyone," Carballo said.