- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) - Araceny Borja, 11, sat in a classroom at Astoria Middle School Thursday, only two months after she and her mother moved to the North Coast from Mexico for what she called “a better life.”

Borja, with translation by a new friend sitting next to her, shared her trepidation at having to make new friends in an entirely new place, and her excitement about being able to take art classes.

Borja is one of more than 100 students, kindergarten through seventh grade, attending a migrant summer school program offered through the Northwest Regional Education Service District and the Astoria School District.

The program serves students whose parents have moved around for work. In Clatsop County, that mostly means workers in fish processing, tourism and other seasonal industries.

“It’s trying to create an equitable circumstance for these kids,” said Seth Tucker, a migrant recruiter with the service district’s migrant education program.

The district has programs in Astoria, Tillamook and Scappoose. Students in the programs must have moved in the past three years for their parent’s work.

Last year, Astoria Superintendent Craig Hoppes said, Astoria had 75 to 80 migrant students. The numbers fluctuate and grow with economic activity in the summer.

Running the program at Astoria Middle School is Astoria kindergarten teacher Kellie Clay, along with five teachers and two teaching assistants. The teachers divide students by grade into all-inclusive classrooms practicing reading, writing, math and art.

“They already understand conversational English, but we’re teaching them academic language,” said Dindy Fischer, a third-grade teacher during the school year who teaches fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders at the summer school.

Each class incorporates an English Learning Development model to help grow the students’ English skills.

“For a 5-year-old navigating two languages, it’s important to give them the structures early,” said Betsy Mahoney, a Seaside kindergarten teacher teaching the same age group at the migrant summer school. She has taught kindergartners through fourth-graders at the migrant summer school.

The students at the migrant school range from those with a full handle on English and straight As to Borja, who speaks almost no English, has never before attended American schools and starts middle school in the fall.

“I mostly get bored at my house, so I come here,” sixth-grader Karen Zuniga Jimenez said, a common sentiment among kids who come to school for the socialization, academic refreshers and local field trips.

While helping students come back to school in the fall with lessons fresh in their mind, the service district also sends a teacher from Mexico to help remind the largely Hispanic student body of their cultural history.

Elizabeth Aguilera, a preschool teacher in Guanajuato, Mexico, on loan to migrant summer school programs in Oregon, goes from classroom to classroom. She led students in building piñatas, Day of the Dead-themed paper mache and other activities to expose students to Mexican culture.

“This tradition, it’s very important in Mexico,” Aguilera said. “I want kids to know those traditions.”

Aguilera said she enjoys the activities teachers do with their kids in America, the materials students are provided and the spacious classrooms. Quarters are cramped in her schools in Mexico, Aguilera said, and English instruction is mostly available to only those who can afford private schools and teachers.

A gap in academic achievement between the general student population on one side, and economically disadvantaged and ethnic minorities on the other, pervades Oregon’s schools. The migrant summer school, largely serving the Hispanic minority on the North Coast, is one of many efforts to close the gap.

Each student coming into the migrant education program undergoes a pre-assessment of their academic skills, and a post-assessment gauging their academic growth. Tucker said 95 percent of students who attended the migrant summer school in 2014 showed growth in reading and math scores based on their assessments.

“It’s more of an opportunity gap than it is an achievement gap,” Hoppes said in January, updating the Astoria School Board on the district’s efforts to make education more equitable. “We have some kids who don’t have the opportunities of other kids.”

During the January presentation, Astoria’s Curriculum Director Melissa Linder said faculty at Astoria often lack the Spanish to adequately help students.

This year, the district is starting to embed English as Second Language teachers into two or three targeted classrooms per grade level, kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Through research and training, we feel the push-in model is more effective over time,” Hoppes said, adding it won’t affect non-ESL students.

Gema Garcia, one of the two teaching assistants this summer, could be considered a success story of the migrant school.

A graduate of Astoria High School this year, Garcia was recently named Oregon’s migrant student of the year by the Northwest Regional Education Service District’s migrant education program.

Like Borja, Garcia said she attended the migrant school around the time she was transitioning from elementary to middle school. “I guess I was shy, and the school helped me” make friends, she said.

Garcia now heads to Portland State University, where she will study chemistry in hopes of becoming a nursing anesthetist. Like her older sister Rosalita and brother Salvador, Garcia said she plans on returning in the summer to help at the migrant school.


Information from: The Daily Astorian, https://www.dailyastorian.com

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