A local organization that aims to help Spanish-speaking residents pass the state’s DMV exam has secured funding to continue its efforts for at least through the end of the year.
The Spanish-speakers Access Network — or SPAN — was formed this year in response to the passage of Assembly Bill 60, which allows undocumented workers to obtain legal California driver’s licenses. The group, which offers free nightly classes, recently received a $6,500 grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara that will allow it to operate for another 40 weeks or so.
Janet Blevins, one of the group’s four founders, said she was thrilled to have funding secured for the program, which essentially operates with no overhead outside of payment to the class’ teacher.
“Just getting to look at these smiling faces with their (licenses) and just knowing that we’re improving the lives of residents in our town,” she said of her motivation for being involved with the group. “Not having a driver’s license and yet needing to get to your job and needing to get kids to school and needing to drive makes a person very vulnerable.”
The group offers classes from 6 to 8 p.m. each Monday through Thursday at the local Democratic Club’s headquarters at 104 South H St. Although three of the four founders are members of the Lompoc Democratic Club, which led to the classes being held in the club’s facility, SPAN is unaffiliated with any political party, according to organizers.
The classes began in late February and typically draw between 10 and 14 participants per night. So far, five of the participants have gone on to receive licenses at the new DMV office at 1601 North H St., which is just one of four offices in the state opened this year specifically to serve undocumented residents.
The classes are taught by Norma Cecilia Aguirre, who taught for about 20 years in Mexico and has experience teaching farmworkers in California how to read and write in Spanish.
Aguirre, who helped found SPAN along with Blevins, Marell Brooks and Elva Muñoz, developed her teaching program with materials obtained by the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) in Santa Maria.
“We came up with the idea and we just planned,” Muñoz said.
The curriculum for the class is individualized to fit each student’s needs. Some students need more instruction in basic reading and writing, while others might be unable to consistently attend, due to work or family schedules.
“The wonderful thing about it is it meets their life needs, as well as the teacher, who is so talented that she can make it work,” Blevins said.
In the future, Blevins said she’d like to see the program expand to include test prep for the U.S. citizenship exam. That would just add to the program’s core tenet, which she said is summarized by its name.
“SPAN is also a word that means bridging things together,” Blevins said. “We’re looking to span two communities in Lompoc and help people who are often not involved in what goes on in the city to become involved.”