Their stories may be different, but the goal of many students attending local adult schools is the same - getting a shot at a better life.
But with local school districts slashing adult school budgets, that goal is becoming more elusive.
One man in Hacienda La Puente Unified's adult school program is taking classes to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, hoping for a better chance at getting into paramedic school.
A young woman there said she's going back to school to become a dental assistant, with goals of escaping her cashier job to help her family out financially.
And another man said his wife is supporting his family while he returns to school. He quit his job last year after finding that there was no room for growth.
In the end, the three students are hoping to get a leg up from their current situations.
But while Hacienda La Puente Unified still offers such opportunities, many other districts no longer do.
Alhambra Unified last year shut down its adult school and Pico Rivera's El Rancho Unified also voted earlier this year to close the adult school's doors at the end of this month.
Other San Gabriel Valley and Whittier-area school districts, including El Monte Union, Azusa Unified and Bassett Unified, have slashed funding or began charging or hiking fees at their adult schools.
They have targeted the adult programs with the hope of preserving their K-12 programs while coping with severe budget cuts.
The local school districts are not alone.
Trends state- and nationwide show a decrease in support for adult education programs, which in California are facilitated through school districts.
Funding for these programs across the country dropped 17 percent in the last decade, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), a nonprofit research and analysis organization targeting issues affecting low-income populations. Enrollment has also dipped 27 percent.
In California, slashed programs are the result of more relaxed regulations that allow school districts flexibility with adult school funding, which is provided by the state and federal governments.
To fill budget gaps, many districts have funneled dollars formerly set aside for adult schools into their general funds.
In 2007-08, prior to the state legislature relaxing spending rules, the state allocated $754 million in state funding and $77 million in federal funding for adult education, according to a CLASP report.
In 2009-10, less than $400 million in state funds were used by local areas for adult education. And this amount has been eroding since, according to the report.
Local district administrators and school board members say big budget deficits have forced them to make a difficult choice between adult education and K-12 education.
"Do we fund the students in K-12, or do we look at adult education?" Azusa Unified board member Barbara Dickerson said last month after the district voted to slash a third of its adult school programs. "I had to look at that and weigh it. It's hard, but it has to be done."
Missing larger picture
School districts across the state have had to cut extracurricular activities, raise class sizes, lay off employees and take other measures to balance their budgets.
However, policy analysts say K-12 and adult education are deeply intertwined and major reductions targeting the latter could have severe repercussions.
"People think adult education and (English as a Second Language classes) are kind of a nice thing for a community to do if they can afford it," said Julie Strawn, a senior fellow at CLASP.
"What they may be missing is this bigger picture that adult education is part of a pathway into good jobs to produce skilled workers for employers that won't stay in California or bring jobs to California if they can't get them. It's not a luxury."
Adult schools offer vocational training, such as computer repair, cosmetology, and auto mechanics, as well as English as a Second Language classes, citizenship classes. Adult schools also often provide math, reading, writing and language courses that serve immigrant, low-income or economically displaced individuals, Strawn said.
Those classes can be a pathway to higher education for many adult students - a much-needed pathway that would not otherwise exist, she said.
A report released last week by California Competes, which develops policy recommendations for the state's higher education system, determined that to remain competitive and be a leading degree-producing state by 2025, California will need to produce an additional 2.3 million postsecondary credentials on top of the 3.2 million that are already projected to be produced under current policies.
Reaching that goal would require an estimated increase in degrees of more than 4 percent each year.
And with a 10.9 percent unemployment rate in California, there's a big need for adult school programs, advocates stress.
"Under this rubric of choosing kids over parents, that's a false dichotomy," Strawn said. "Children are not going to do better in school if their families have less income, their parents can't improve in the English language or their math, reading and writing skills to help with homework. For all of those reasons, it's a mistake to think that you can cut education for parents without hurting kids."
California is among 25 states across the country that facilitate adult school programs through K-12 school districts, according to CLASP. Twelve states run the programs through post-secondary or community college systems and six administer the adult programs through their labor/workforce systems.
Nonetheless, some school district representatives say they've got few choices.
Alhambra Unified's adult school fell victim to California's budget crisis and shut down in June 2011. The district now offers only degree equivalency courses such as those to obtain a high school diploma or GED are available at the district. The move, which involved the layoff of 29 teachers, saved the district $6 million, officials said.
Administrators in the El Monte Union High School District say they've absorbed many of the students that had formerly attended Alhambra Unified's program. To cope with the additional demand and their own budget issues, that district has started charging registration fees and laid off some employees.
Baldwin Park Unified School District also eliminated adult summer classes, reduced the number of adult classes, and laid off 30 adult school teachers last fall, saving the district $3 million, officials there said.
In contrast, Hacienda La Puente Unified has in recent years slashed summer course offerings, but has been relatively unscathed in the budget crunch.
"I think (our board) gets that you can't in an economic crisis like California is in, take away opportunities to provide adults the chance at education to be retrained. Closures and things like that, how does this help?" said Cyndi Parulan-Colfer, associate superintendent of Hacienda La Puente Unified's adult and continuing education.
El Rancho Unified's board earlier this year voted to eliminate its adult school. It officially shuts down on June 30, officials said.
The decision saved the district roughly $1 million, said Chris Gutierrez-Lohrman, director of student services.
Although the adult school is closing down, the state's decision to allow flexibility in the funding once dedicated to adult education means the district will still receive and spend the funds through its general fund, Gutierrez-Lohrman said.
The district is proposing to partner with the city of Pico Rivera and other institutions such as Rio Hondo College to open a similar program for community members, he said. The proposal, which would cost the district significantly less, goes before the board this week.
"Even though the adult school is closing, we see a need for our community," Gutierrez-Lohrman said.