Migrant school delivers a boost of confidence

Linda Addison wants to see kids excited about summer vacation, but not because they’re getting time off from school.

Quite the contrary — she wants to keep them hungry for more, and believes that Hood River’s migrant summer school just might be the means.

Some of that hunger was piqued Monday morning in Elaine Maahs’ classroom at Mid Valley Elementary School, as she taught students how to make S’mores.

“Do you know why they’re called ’S’mores?’” Maahs asked the group of 10 first-graders, who shook their heads. “It’s because after you eat one you want ... some ... more. S’more!”

After uttering “ahhhs” of recognition, students munched on their sugary treats with smiles that would have given Addison a boost of confidence.

“I would like to see this program become the favorite thing kids look forward to in the summer,” said Addison, who manages federal grants for the Hood River Valley School District. “As they walk out the doors on their last day of school I want them to be talking about how excited they are about summer school!”

The federally funded program is now in the last days of its three-week term at Mid Valley.

The classes, open to preschool through fifth-graders, are taught mainly by school district employees, creating an 11:1 student-teacher ratio. Each of the 18 classrooms hosts one teacher and one instructional assistant, each of whom must have at least two years of college experience.

“It’s a nice training ground for those who want to get into the district,” said Catherine Dalbey, who teaches fifth grade at Pine Grove Elementary School. Last year she was a summer school teacher, and now she’s serving as site administrator in an effort to earn her practicum and administrative credentials from Concordia University.

Around 300 students are taking advantage of the free summer classes this year, which are held Monday through Friday from 8 a.m to 1:30 p.m. Free breakfast and lunch are available from 7:15-8 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., respectively.

During its three weeks, the program typically picks up around 50 more students. Adult ESL classes are also offered, and some parents even ride the bus to school with their children.

To participate in the program, students must have a certificate of eligibility indicating that their families have moved to the area seeking work during the last three years. The program used to be funded by the school district and was open to all students, but this year budget cuts forced it to train its focus on migrant children.

“There’s an emphasis on language development,” Dalbey said. “Because it falls in the middle of summer it gives the kids a chance to maintain their level of English proficiency.”

That extra boost of confidence makes all the difference when the regular school year rolls around.

“The curriculum basically pre-teaches what teachers will cover in September, and gives the kids a chance to feel successful when they go back to school in the fall,” said Dalbey.

That curriculum covers more than the etymology of the word “S’mores.” Children receive literary and math instruction, and science instruction from Maahs, a Girl Scouts liaison. She teaches four or five groups of female students each day, and leads a teacher inservice so other instructors can teach the boys. Instructors also participate in workshops each summer to learn about diversity, curriculum development and other issues.

On Monday, Maahs also helped students use Styrofoam peanuts and paperclips to make “flinkers” that neither floated nor sunk in beakers of water. Then they gathered in a circle for short songs in English and Spanish.

“Informally, we’ve received a lot of positive comments from students and staff,” said Dalbey. “It seems to be running very smoothly and our kids are excited to be here.”

“Catherine has been a blessing,” said James Sims, director of federal programs for the school district. “This is the strongest staff in years. We have an excellent food program, an excellent parent program, and attendance has been fairly stable.”

The summer school was founded in 1983, with nine teachers and 63 students participating. The program was prompted by the death of a migrant child in an orchard, which spurred federal funds for the formation of a summer school to keep children away from danger.

“The number one goal of migrant summer school is to give the kids a safe environment, out of the orchard, and away from the elements of nature,” said Sims, who himself owns a cherry farm. “And of course, academics fall in there as well.

“My goal would be to see the program continue to grow financially so that every child could be in here instead of the orchard,” said Sims. This would include expanding the program to seven days a week, with babysitting care on the weekends instead of regular classes.

Sims said that the migrant and Hispanic population in the district is growing 2-3 percent each year. In 1983, 15 percent of Hood River Valley High School students were Hispanic. Today it is closer to 35 percent, and the elementary schools in Mid Valley, Parkdale and Pine Grove are over 50 percent Hispanic.

“The migrant and Hispanic population continues to grow,” said Sims. “It’s an important part of the valley community — it’s who we are.”

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