The Daily Astorian

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) _ The halls of John Jacob Astor Elementary School overflow with tiny chairs, desks, tables and other classroom furniture. Maintenance crews install carpet, wash the walls, paint the gym and otherwise spruce up the school.

But while most students take a break for the summer, about 85 to 90 migrant and English Language Learner (ELL) students spend much of their July in the basement of Astor during the five-week ELL/Migrant Summer School.

They try to catch up academically to create a level playing field when classes restart in the fall.

“The majority of the students have parents working in the fish canneries,” said Veronica De Ortega, a home and school liaison for the Migrant Education Program of the Northwest Education Service District, which administers the federally funded program. Eighty percent of students, she added, have parents in the seafood industry. She recruits students, visiting their parents at fish processing plants.

Similar schools serve dairy workers around Tillamook, those in logging around Nestucca and farm and nursery laborers in Washington County. Students must have moved in the last three years because of their parents’ employment to qualify for the school.

“Some of these parents work 12 to 16 hours a day,” said Ortega, adding that it’s sometimes a mixed bag whether some employers will let her talk to parents about the program, which only accepts students entering kindergarten to sixth grade. If it included all grades, she added, it might have 150 students.

On Wednesday, after a writing lesson in Astoria kindergarten teacher Kellie Clay’s class, incoming second-grader Martina Hernandez did the math. She wanted two horses, but didn’t have enough area to include the six required squares of pastureland for each animal.

Clay, filling in for another instructor, teaches her students math and vocabulary by having them build and purchase parts of a farm. Students write rhymes and stories about their farms, and watch videos showing real-life animal husbandry.

Hernandez, whose mom and dad work in hotels and at Home Depot, respectively, said she moved to the North Coast from Santiago, Chile, when she was a baby.

“First we moved to Seaside, then to Emerald Heights, then back to Seaside, then Emerald Heights,” she said. “Now I live in the Bayshore Apartments. We’re getting ready to move again, because we don’t like it there.”

Almost all students are Hispanic. With constant moves and language barriers, that demographic poses a unique and continuing challenge for Astoria and other school districts.

“Our achievement gap that we know we need to get better at . is kids of Hispanic population,” said Astoria Superintendent Craig Hoppes. “And that gap keeps getting wider every year.”

For the migrant school at Astor, NWESD hires several local teachers from Astoria and Warrenton certified in GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) and SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) teaching strategies for ELL students. They run four classrooms for various ages and grades. Each teacher chooses a theme for their five-week curricula and a benchmark in math and reading to test kids on at the beginning and end of the five-week program, incorporating English education all along the way.

Astoria also has a credit-recovery program at the high school that students pay tuition to get into. The district also provides translation services quite often.

“There’s a very strong parent support program with migrant parents called the PAC (Parent Advisory Council),” said Hoppes. He said the testing of a math and reading Common Core state standard at the beginning and end of the five-week program provides accountability. And the program shows growth in students every year, although the number of ELL students in the district keeps increasing.

Students often have several siblings or extended family members in the same program. One such family includes second-grader Demetrio Ochoa, fourth-grader Rodrigo Cipriano and sixth-grader Sergio Cipriano. Their family has made its way north from Mexico – when Sergio was a baby – to Arizona, and then to Astoria nine years ago. A short move to work at a plant in California two years ago qualified the family for the program.

“My mom didn’t have enough money to send me to school,” said their mother, Maria Ochoa. “I say `Hey guys; you have the opportunities here to go to school.’ I say `Hey, look at me: I work in the canneries; I work in McDonald’s. But if you go to school, you can work somewhere better.”’

Not one to be a hypocrite, Ochoa works part-time at McDonald’s while she studies at Clatsop Community College to take the General Education Development (GED) tests. She dreams of being a nurse one day, adding that her sons all have big dreams of their own: Demetrio wants to be a firefighter, Rodrigo a state trooper and Sergio a chef.

“When I first started, I didn’t know any English,” said Salvador Garcia, a 20-year-old interior design major at Portland State University who, with his younger sister, mentors students in the migrant school. For his senior project at Astoria High School, Garcia taught kids in the migrant school how to paint portraits and fold origami, and he’s been coming back each summer since then.

“I’ve known some of these students since they were in kindergarten,” he said. “Now they’re in fifth or sixth grade.”

The project is especially close to Garcia, who moved to the area from Mexico and went to a similar migrant school program in Astoria for several years when he was their age and stands as an example of what a level playing field can do.

Information from: The Daily Astorian,