For Cristina Chiappe's students, her dedication and risks mean a chance at a better life. In March, the Centinela Valley Union High School District in Lawndale canceled its adult education program due to cuts in state funding, leaving Chiappe without a job and her 16 low-income students without classes.
"Once you hear all the adult schools are closing and you go to different doors to knock, they're not opening anywhere, so it's very difficult," said Dora Pinto, a student. "We were terrified about it because we were two months in."
Chiappe decided to continue their classes in secret. She got a proper Los Angeles County business license, but was denied a permit from the city of Lawndale. The students, whose tuition was reimbursed by the district, pooled their resources, helping Chiappe buy $15,000 worth of medical equipment to continue their lessons. On Tuesday, the students took their final exam.
"We were really grateful because she is a great teacher and she's a real good mentor for each and every one of us. So we were excited that she was willing to do this for each and every one of us," Pinto said.
All 16 students are now headed to area doctor's offices and clinics to complete their required 160 externship hours and to begin a new career with a new-found confidence, thanks to their teacher.
"I feel so happy that I can't even tell you the way I feel in my heart," Chiappe said. "I know these girls are going to do wonderful."
Chiappe has been living off of her unemployment checks. She said she wants to continue the school with all the proper permits and is currently looking for some help to find the right location in her neighborhood.