NATALIA CERVANTES/Coachella Uninc
INDIO — Fernando Arredondo was only 17 when he became a father and dropped out of school to support his new family.
Two years later, the roles have switched. His girlfriend has finished high school, gone on to college, and is now supporting the family so that Arredondo can earn his diploma at Farmworker Institute of Education and Leadership Development (FIELD).
“I want to become a border patrol [agent] or go…into law enforcement,” said Arredondo. “My godfather has been in it for nine months already. He’s the same as me. He slacked in his studies and hung out with the wrong crowd. He overcame it, so I’m doing the same.”
FIELD, a non-profit organization founded by César Chávez in 1978, is offering adults like Arredondo a second chance at a high school diploma free of charge.
“We started in the Coachella Valley in September 2013 with one English as Second Language class, and now we have five ESL classes and we just started the high school diploma class,” said Junko Ihrke, coordinator of FIELD’s Coachella Valley programs.
“We specialize in education and leadership, not just learning English, but really developing your skills so that you have confidence and you become a leader in your community,” said Ihrke.
The diploma program classes are held at Desert Gardens Apartments, in space provided by the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, the nonprofit organization that owns this multi-family housing complex in Indio.
“Partnering with FIELD to provide much-needed educational programs for our hardworking adult residents at Desert Gardens Apartments, as well as the community at large, fits perfectly with the CVHC’s 32-year commitment to serve,” said John Mealey, executive director of CVHC. “But it’s the students attending the classes and their commitment to take time out of their busy lives to gain a high school diploma and improve their English knowledge that truly inspire us to continue to provide services and housing that is safe, decent, affordable and deeply meaningful.”
“I told myself, ‘It’s time to step up.’ I want to be someone.”
Stephanie Serrano, has a story similar to Arredondo. She dropped out at 15 because she didn’t have daycare for her baby. She felt she had no other choice.
“Being a teenage mom is really hard, it’s frustrating. I was still young, I wanted to go out and party. But I had to take care of a baby,” Serrano said.
She became motivated to return to school when she saw her brothers graduate and get good jobs.
“I got tired of it. I told myself, ‘It’s time to step up,’” she said. “I wanted to be someone so I can show my kid that I went to high school even though I had him.”
Juan Manuel Hernandez dropped out of school for being what he calls “a delinquent” at the time. He got involved with the wrong crowd and was unable to go back because he needed to work.
Hernandez said, “I was tired of being mad at myself and not having what I wanted, what I needed. It was a struggle, and I didn’t like the struggle.”
Three years after what would have been his graduation year, he decided to enroll at FIELD, where he has received the motivation he needed.
“Many of these students weren’t given the correct attention. They didn’t speak English or they didn’t know math, so they were kicked out or just avoided by certain teachers,” said Jasmyn Leon, a teacher at FIELD. “I do feel like they were given up on. They need individual attention, someone to go knocking on their door and getting them motivated to come to school. I’m here to give them that individual attention that nobody else did, and to care for them.”
Hernandez added, “Miss Leon is awesome, she’s very motivating and caring. There’s a lot of one-on-one action…very comforting.”
Leon explains the difference between FIELD’s diploma program versus the Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED) that is usually available for adults.
“If you go to a job interview, they are going to pick the person who has the high school diploma over the GED. A high school diploma has higher value than a GED,” she said. “They will have better opportunities as adults. They will have a better chance at life and be able to experience better financial opportunities.”
Farmworker Institute of Education and Leadership Development’s high school diploma program is open to individuals over age 18. FIELD is located at Desert Gardens Apartments, 83-880 Ave. 48, Indio. For more information, please call (760) 775-4900 or visit the FIELD website.
View photographs from our visit to FIELD here.