After working in a factory for 12 years, Daniel Hernandez felt he was wasting his time at a job with no meaning. When his wife convinced him of the value of higher education, he started taking classes at the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center. He has since graduated and hopes to attend college.

On Tuesday, community members, teachers and students at the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center — which offers day and night classes to adults seeking a high school diploma or in need of other educational resources — rallied at the New Haven Green to encourage residents to go back to school. After staff members from the education center and city officials gave speeches to an encouraging crowd, community members took to the streets and canvassed around the Elm City to promote adult education.

“The best way for anyone to prepare for a productive and meaningful life is to learn as much as possible throughout their lives,” Mayor Toni Harp said. “Just because you don’t do it on somebody else’s time schedule doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it.”

Last year, 170 students graduated from the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center and the school served more than 1,600 students across its various day and evening programs — including English as a second language classes, high school completion courses and a nursing assistant certification program. All courses at the center, as well as introductory classes at Gateway Community College, are free to New Haven residents.

According to center officials, one in six New Haven residents do not have a high school diploma and 30 percent of New Haven residents cannot read the newspaper. The center’s principal, Michelle Bonora, said the “troubling statistics” on adult education in the New Haven area compelled her and her staff to host the rally.

After the rally, community members canvassed throughout New Haven, encouraging residents to pursue a high-school equivalent degree and to tell their friends about local education programs. Volunteers canvassed in areas such as Fair Haven, Whalley Avenue and the Newhallville neighborhood, and set up information stations in other parts of the city.

Residents who graduated from the education center gave speeches at the event. After failing to graduate from New Britain High School, Mercedez Torres eventually received her degree from the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center in 2015 and now works as a certified nursing assistant. She encouraged residents to seek help and return to finish their studies.

“I want all of you guys to know that it’s never too late to go back to school, it’s never too late to get help,” Torres said. “I was hard-headed, I didn’t want to ask for nobody’s help. When I stepped into adult education, they changed my life forever.”

Torres praised the instructors she met at the center, as well as Bonora.

Bonora said that personal connection is at the heart of the center’s mission. It’s important for the center to reach out to community members and convince them that the benefits of higher education far outweigh any costs, she added.

“If you can talk to me, and you can know me, then it’s not just going to a strange building [for education classes]. It’s about going to see Michelle Bonora, and she’s going to help me with my plan,” Bonora said. “There are a lot of students that could use these programs. We need to get out there and personally connect to them to bring them in.”

Registration for fall day and evening classes at the New Haven Adult and Continuing Education Center opens Sept. 4. Classes begin Sept. 11.

Isabel Bysiewicz |