Unprecedented Steps

June 15, 2005

No one in Hilda Galvan's family could show her how to graduate from high school on Friday night or how to get there in the four years preceding it. They couldn't show her how to write a solid thesis, solve a geometric proof or how to study for all those quizzes and tests that add into a single credit.

No one in her family had ever finished high school before, much less attended it.

Circumstance had offered her parents and four older siblings just enough time to complete sixth grade before it moved each of them out of the classroom and into the fields.

That was nearly a decade ago, back in Churintzio, Michoacan.

Since then, the Galvans had moved to Hood River in search of a better life. They found it in the orchards. Young Hilda, only 10 at the time, found it in school.

"When I came here I didn't have to work," Galvan says. "I have more opportunity to continue."

She learned English, math and science here. And on Friday evening, she learned how to graduate.

Galvan was one of 51 Hood River Valley High School graduates, who snapped a long and persistent generational chain of illiteracy by earning a high school diploma. Nearly all were students who, on top of core classes, also had to learn English as a second language.

"A lot of these kids stayed here till 5 p.m. after school," said Dave Fults, an English Language Learners (ELL) teacher at Hood River Valley High School. "A lot of these kids took the late bus home."

They climb the same stairs at graduation and cross the same platform. For many first-in-their-family graduates, however, the journey to that hallowed ceremony is much different than for their peers.

After the bell rings and the students fill the hallways on their ways home, many ELL students head into another classroom to learn how to pronounce and read English.

And when they are done there, some return to homes, whose parents have abandoned for the winter.

Inevitably, circumstance tugs many away from their studies and school.

Many drop out.

This year, Hood River Valley High School officials requested in their morning bulletin that every student who would be the first in his or her respective families to graduate please visit the front office.

Fifty one came.

"I feel the payoff is finally coming," said Hood River Vally co-principal Steve Fisk. "For 13 years they'd only come for one or two months. Now there are kids that are making it. Every one of these kids that's graduating is going on. High School isn't the end."

Galvan is going on to Columbia Gorge Community College. And now her younger sister, the baby of the family, wants to finish high school as well.

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