There were three days last winter when PEILA (Program of English Instruction to Latin Americans) had to close down its drafty classrooms for lack of heat. The boilers in the Wilson Center at 15th and Irving streets NW had broken down yet again.
The 300 Spanish-speaking people who normally crammed into the six upstairs rooms for lessons in English, in citizenship, in mathematics or to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma, had to go home disappointed.
They would come back another day, but there were many who could not come at all because there simply was not enough space.
"I have had cases of people who drop down on their knees and beg to get in," said program director Sonia Gutierrez, "but we cannot accomodate all the people."
Meanwhile, a few miles away in an aging Georgetown building, the heat was on, but the crowding at the Americanization School, was just as bad. There, 600 or so students - from a hundred different countries - were sitting, trying to learn English, in tiny makeshift classrooms formed by dividing the building's original rooms in half.
"It's a little League of Nations over here," said assistant principal Catherine Leidecker. But it was a crowded one.
Both the Americanization School and PEILA were, it was obvious to the people who taught and studied at them, ready for a move. Now they are both about to make one - to the same place - and the prospect is being greeted with a mix of hope and apprehension.
At stake is the possibility of a future, with improved facilities, some room to breathe and a new level of coordination for the D.C. School System's two major adult education programs aimed at Washington 's immigrant communities. Also at stake, however, are two programs which, in their separate ways, have established themselves quite well independently.
For the 54-year-old Americanization School the move to what was once Gordon Junior High School will not be a long one - from Prospect Street to 34th and T streets NW. But for PEILA, which has been located at the heart of the Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant Hispanic neighborhoods since it began eight years ago, the move marks a potential break with the community it serves.
The two programs, under the management of Gutierrez, are to exist separately, side by side, according to D.C. School Superintendent Vincent Reed. But there are fears on both sides that they may eventually merge, compromising the integrity and goals of the separate programs.
School board member Frank Shaffer-Corona, for one, adamantly opposes the move and has called for an immediate halt to such an action.
Shaffer-Corona said he feared that to take "a valuable Latino educational program from its present location to the heart of wealthy white Georgetown" would cause hardships for the present, mostly low-income students in terms of transportation, and perhaps psychologically and socially well.
Shaffer-Corona described what he termed to a reporter the "DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) rah-rah type thing" that is, as he sees it, the essence of the Americanization program.
Gutierrez, aware of the problems that PEILA's move from Adams-Morgan to Georgetown might create, said she checked thoroughly with her students and with other Latino leaders before consenting to go ahead. Almost unanimously, she said, they approved.
"They all have concerns about it, of course," said Gutierrez, "but I've always made sure that PEILA remains a community program. I have given my blood for this program and I would not risk it."
Leidecker, who has been, in effect, the acting principal of the Americanization School for the year and a half since the last principal retired, said that she had told most of her faculty of the move, but not of the possible conso!idation. As they find out, she said, "I wouldn't be surprised but what there will be protests, fear that it will be taken over by the Hispanics."
For their part, both Leidecker and Gutierrez are emphasizing the positive aspect of the move, which they believe, with savings in rent (the facilities at the Wilson Center cost $12,000 a year) and the extra space, will allow increased enrollment and expanded programs after the school opens in September, perhaps growing to include job triaining courses. "My directive," said Gutierrez, "is to expand everything."