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The president’s temporary Dream Act is driving a surge of enrollment in adult education

Math class at Clark County Adult High School happens in a spartan trailer with a squeaky floor. Inside, 10 students wrestle with geometry. They are all older than your typical high school student. A young man in the front row is working on a problem involving two similar triangles. And he is stumped. Instructor Kevin Brandt approaches the white board. Squeak. He breaks the question into an equation, factors it down and turns to face his student. Squeak.

“Did you get that far?” he asks.

“Kinda,” says the student.

“Where did you get stuck?” Brandt asks.

“In the beginning,” he says.

This class is not filled to capacity, but new and returning students have packed the registration offices outside, and line up along the sidewalk, dangling children and purses.

Since the beginning of July, the office has been uncharacteristically busy. Robert Henry, director of the department of adult education for the Clark County School District, hasn’t seen anything like it in the four years he’s worked at the office on St. Louis Street.

“From the end of June until now, our office is just booming,” he said.

Enrollment has grown by 12 percent from last year, and Henry believes that almost all that growth can be tied to the Dream Act, or deferred action as it is officially known, which gives some young immigrants a reprieve from possible deportation. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications two months later. Successful applicants do not get legal status, but they will be allowed to drive and work legally in the United States for at least two years.

To qualify, applicants must have a high school diploma, GED, or be enrolled in school. And that’s driving some young dropouts back into the classroom. The district does not keep statistics on why adult students return to the classroom, but Henry said new students have mentioned the Dream Act in conversations with counselors. That, plus the timing of the surge, leads him to believe the federal program is causing the sudden student spike. Since July 1, the district registered 3,700 new adult education students.

Rudy Zamora, an employee at Hermandad Mexicana, a nonprofit that assists people in immigration matters, said the law is written to encourage educational progress. Deferred action expires after two years. The law might be renewed, but existing applicants might have to reapply, and prove that they’ve made progress toward a diploma or certificate.

“If they don’t have any evidence that they’ve used the opportunity for good, they won’t get extended,” he said. His organization has assisted several applicants. If someone meets all the requirements except the educational ones, he said, they usually refer them to Desert Rose Adult High School, the adult education center on St. Louis Street or to CSN.

The community college has not seen a dramatic spike in adult education enrollment. But the number of students in those programs has risen steadily during the last two years.

“We can’t specifically say whether it’s directly related to the Dream Act,” said Cynthia Pierrott, coordinator of the division of workforce and economic development.

None of the students registering on Thursday afternoon wanted to talk about their reasons with a reporter. The crowd from the morning petered out after lunch, but the office stays open until 7 p.m. On some days, Henry said, it’s standing room only. His division already offers classes in 35 locations across the valley, but the extra demand is exhausting their limited resources. He has considered reorganizing classes to group students by level of proficiency. Whatever they do, they want to find a way to keep the doors open for everyone who comes in, no matter what the reason.

“My philosophy and the philosophy of our department is that we don’t want to turn anyone away,” Henry said.