October 29th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

California teacher holds secret class

By Sonya Hamasaki, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) – On a brisk, spring-like day in March, Diana Rivera walked into a classroom at Centinela Valley Adult School, just like she’d done everyday for nearly the past two months. She was eager to hear a lecture in her “medical assistant” class, a course she believed would be key to successfully starting a career in the medical field. Getting there had been a struggle.

“I searched and searched for so long,” she said. “I tried to get in three years ago, but there was a waiting list.”

The medical assistant course was started 12 years ago, and over the years, it grew to become one of the most popular on campus. But on that day, just as Rivera was settling into her coursework, everything changed.

“They just came in, gave us notice that school was over, and took us out," she said.

And just like that, her dreams vanished. The class and its instructor were suddenly eliminated due to cuts in state funding.

“It was devastating,” Rivera said. “I was let down.”

But as she was escorted off campus that morning, what she didn’t know was that her teacher was also about to become her champion.

Educator Cristina Chiappe, who created the course and has taught it since its inception, suddenly found herself unemployed. And while she no longer had a physical location to teach, she never once thought to stop the class.

“I didn’t want to leave my students with nothing. They cut the money back. This is not all about money, it’s about education,” she said.

So Chiappe came up with an idea – one that her students and onlookers have described as “brave”, “risky” and “heroic.”

She decided to continue teaching her group of displaced students, and open her own school.
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