Adult education student shares value of program with state legislators

From left, Diane Jackson, Dr. Patcharaporn “Pat” Phupaibul and Maria Alvidrez have different roles with the Queen Creek Unified School District adult education program. Ms. Jackson is the adult education instructor and ambassador coordinator, Dr. Phupaibul is a former student turned instructor and Ms. Alvidrez is a student and ambassador. (Independent Newspapers/Wendy Miller)


Lawmakers have a better idea of how budget cuts to the state’s adult education funding could impact local programs thanks to a whirlwind visit to Washington, D.C., by adult education students, including a woman representing Queen Creek.

Maria Alvidrez, part of the Queen Creek Unified School District adult education program, was in the nation’s capital Sept. 26-27 as part of a new, national campaign called Educate and Elevate.

The campaign pro-actively educates policy-makers about the importance of adult education and how it is an investment in America’s future, according to a press release.

Joining the Queen Creek school district in the campaign were the Arizona Association for Lifelong Learning and more than 55,000 adult educators from the Coalition on Adult Basic Education.

Legislator meetings

Maria Alvidrez, a student in the Queen Creek Unified School District’s adult education program, advocated for additional funding for adult education with Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (District 9, Arizona) and other Arizona lawmakers last month in Washington, D.C. (Special to the Independent/QCUSD)

Ms. Alvidrez was Arizona’s sole student representative, Diane Jackson, the QCUSD adult education instructor and ambassador coordinator, said during an interview.

She met with Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (District 9, Arizona) and Congressman Tom O’Halleran (District 1, Arizona) and assistants for Congressman Ruben Gallego (District 7, Arizona) and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, she said.

Ms. Alvidrez applied for and received a scholarship from the Coalition on Adult Basic Education that covered her travel expenses to Capitol Hill for the two-day event, she said during an interview.

The coalition is a Cicero, New York-based organization that works to advance national and international adult education and literacy opportunities for all persons, according to its website:

Its mission includes promoting adult education and literacy programs, including adult basic education, adult secondary education, English for speakers of other languages, family literacy, skills development, workforce development and other state, federal and private programs that assist undereducated and/or disadvantaged adults to function effectively, according to the website.

COABE Executive Director Sharon Bonney called Ms. Alvidrez’s role at the national level meetings critical as she is an adult education student and personally understands the value of adult education for change in a person’s life, she said in the release.

Finding out the state of Arizona ranks 48th in the nation for adult education opened lawmakers’ eyes, Ms. Alvidrez said.

“I started telling them how low we are nationally and they listened to what I had to say,” Ms. Alvidrez said. “Rep. O’Halleran was very concerned about education and how government doesn’t focus on education. He took notes and asked questions. My point was that if we didn’t get the budget approved we won’t be able to reach the goals we have. He said getting additional funding was going to be difficult, but not impossible.”

Congresswoman Sinema was aware of the problems with education funding, Ms. Alvidrez said.

“I told her I had worked in the school district for five or six years and never had a raise. She said she was pro-education. When I told her about Arizona ranking No. 48 in the U.S. she said she had to do something.”

Adult ed in Arizona

By 2018, 63 percent of all U.S. jobs will require education beyond high school, according to the Arizona Association for Lifelong Learning. Nearly half the U.S. workforce — about 88 million adults ages 18 to 64 — have only a high school education or less and/or low English proficiency, according to the AALL.

Adult education helps to close the gap and provide workers with the skills needed for those jobs.

“Adult education is uniquely situated to address the needs of our regional employers,” AALL President Philip Suriano said in the release. “Educating motivated students will support our local businesses in creating jobs and filling positions, so we are urging legislators to fund adult education at the $649 million level as called for in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act enacted in 2014.”

Level playing field

The demand for high school equivalency classes and English language instruction is so great that more than 13,000 people are on the wait list to enroll in adult education courses across Arizona, according to the release.

One of those adult learners who did enroll is Dr. Pat Phupaibul. Dr. Phupaibul came to the U.S. from her native Thailand at the top of her career as a research scientist, she said during an interview.

She thought she possessed solid English skills. What she found was that she “could hardly be understood” in English and had difficulties presenting herself in work-related situations and interviews. As a result, she became depressed and isolated herself from the outside world.

“I lost my self-confidence. I thought I’m not going to live like this,” Dr. Phupaibul said.

Her brother-in-law suggested she enroll in the QCUSD adult education program, where she struggled day by day, but was able to improve her English. She began a job waitressing for minimum wage, then was hired to teach English as a second language — or ESL — in Mesa.

She lost that job due to budget cuts. She then met Ms. Jackson, who teaches leadership skills as part of the adult education program. Taking the leadership and ESL courses helped develop Dr. Phupaibul’s self-confidence and enabled her to find her place in society, she said.

Today, she is an instructor in that QCUSD program.

“Improving my ability to speak English helped me develop my potential. Now there is nothing to hold me back,” she said.

Ms. Alvidrez’s story is similar. She was working for the Florence Unified School District in 2014 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her upward mobility came to a halt and she fell into a deep depression, she said.

In an attempt to heal mentally, she enrolled in the QCUSD adult education program. The decision to take action was life-changing, she said.

“I’m improving my knowledge. I never thought I would be meeting such important persons and going to Washington, D.C.,” Ms. Alvidrez said. “It was scary for me, but I know it was important to let our legislators know what would happen if they cut these programs. We’re the key to our success not just in the community, but also to the state.”

Ms. Jackson is proud of the manner in which Ms. Alvidrez and Dr. Phupaibul represent the school district’s adult education program.

“My job is to prepare students to be ambassadors, to go out and advocate in the community with policy-makers,” she said. “Students begin to lose their fear of speaking in public. They have a passion for the program. They start by saying ‘I can’t do this, I’ll never be able to speak in public or to important people, and then here they are, enlightening lawmakers about the value of adult education.”

Time well spent

Was her time in Washington, D.C. well spent? Ms. Alvidrez says it was.

“It was very successful. All the persons we spoke to were important,” the Queen Creek ambassador said. “Ms. Sinema was the most enthusiastic. She understood if we don’t do something, Arizona could fall to 50th place.”
The congresswoman said she learned a lot from speaking to Ms. Alvidrez.

“I value the opportunity to listen to Arizonans and learn about issues that matter to their families, their communities and their careers,” Congresswoman Sinema said in an e-mailed response to a question. “Ms. Alvidrez shared an important perspective on the need to strengthen and improve adult education. We support robust funding for adult education programs that allow Arizonans to get the skills they need for the jobs they want. A quality education was my ticket to the middle class, and I’m committed to ensuring every Arizona family has that same opportunity to succeed.”

Hearing stories from ambassadors such as Ms. Alvidrez has an impact on the legislators, Ms. Jackson said.

“When someone like Maria shares her personal story, this is what legislators want to hear. Legislators say ‘I know very little about adult education, but the next time it comes up for a vote I see your face,’” Ms. Jackson said.
“It gives us an opportunity to put it out there,” she said. “It’s a story that has to be told.”

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News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799 and via e-mail at, or follow her on Twitter @WendyNewszap123.

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