San Diego Continuing Education offers a nursing assistant program, preparing students to take the state’s Certified Nursing Assistant examination. Photo courtesy SDCCD

Free classes — almost all online — start Monday at San Diego Continuing Education, the parent community college district said Friday ahead of the spring semester.

Officials said short term career training is available in several “pandemic resilient workforce sectors” — from information technology and healthcare to automotive and plumbing. Other free classes include English as a second language, citizenship and high school diploma/equivalency.

“Currently, we only plan to have welding labs on campus for the beginning of the spring semester,” said Andrei Lucas, dean of skilled and technical trades. “We may bring back some of the automotive technology labs but that is dependent on the status of COVID-19.”

The district cites the example of Jessica Rodriguez, 41, who dropped out of high school as a teenager to help her single mom pay the bills.

She returned to academia 24 years later at SDCE in 2019 to finish her diploma with a goal of enrolling into the school’s Auto Technician certificate program.

“I would walk around campus and see posters for the automotive classes, and I would go to their garage and visualize being a part of the program then COVID hit,” she said.

Like many students who were hoping to pursue a hands-on middle skills education at an SDCE campus, she adapted to the abrupt change. SDCE campuses temporarily closed in March due to the pandemic, only a few weeks after Rodriguez earned a diploma.

“I am a visual learner, so for me virtual learning is a challenge, it is a lot of information at a fast pace,” she said. “However, the automotive instructors are very passionate about teaching, they set me up for success with how organized they are.”

Rodriguez donates her time fixing her neighbors cars in Imperial Beach who otherwise could not afford the opportunity. Following SDCE, Rodriguez will transition to San Diego Miramar College in the fall to pursue a degree in automotive technology.

San Diegans interested in pursuing a career in information technology can enroll in SDCE’s ICOM Academy (Interactive Competency-based Online Micro-credentialing Academy).

The new dedicated digital educational program accommodates face-to-face live interaction with faculty and other students in an online classroom equipped with free integrated software and textbooks. Among the career education options are Cybersecurity Analyst, Linux Server Administration and Mobile Application Development.

SDCE President Carlos Osvaldo Cortez said: “For decades, SDCE has served large populations of low-income and underserved communities who face inequalities in higher education, and with the pandemic, that gap is widening, and these students remain largely disadvantaged due to a lack of resources necessary to be successful in a virtual environment.

“Our institution is working to make sure every student stays on track with their academic and professional goals through substantial online student support services.”

An estimated $1.6 million dollars in federal stimulus funding and success grants will be distributed to eligible students to support online learning.

SDCE will also continue to provide a “Wi-Fi Parking Lot” for enrolled students to ensure equal access to online instruction.