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As Portland's Migrant Population Leaves, Summer School Program Shrinks


Parent-volunteers sit in a Rigler Elementary School hallway with children as they take tests on laptop computers. The kids are part of a federally-funded summer school for migrant and low-income kids.

Parent-volunteers sit in a Rigler Elementary School hallway with children as they take tests on laptop computers. The kids are part of a federally-funded summer school for migrant and low-income kids.

Rob Manning/OPB

 When school doors closed last month, many Oregon teachers and students hit the road for vacations or to visit family. Not everyone does, though. Some teachers stick around to run programs for kids who tend to move during the school year. But the summer school for migrant kids is shrinking.  
 
Gustavo Molina has 29 students in a blended class of second and third graders. He says over the summers, he’s seen budgets get tighter.  
 
“That’s the reason why in this program we have two grades in one, with more than 20 students, when a lot of these children would benefit more from a smaller class and a single grade. With more resources,” Molina said.  
 
It’s a simple math problem that Oregon school administrators know all too well: when funding follows students, money will get scarce if student numbers drop.
 
Portland Public Schools’ total population has gone up recently. But the migrant population has not.
 
“We had last year, almost 400 students. We are right now, at 300,” Teresa Rule said.  
 
Rule has helped run the migrant student programs – including the summer school – for 17 years. She said the migrant population started changing a decade ago.   

Migrant Education Program Coordinator Teresa Rule organizes paperwork in the Rigler Elementary School office, as part of her job supervising summer classes for migrant and low-income children.

Migrant Education Program Coordinator Teresa Rule organizes paperwork in the Rigler Elementary School office, as part of her job supervising summer classes for migrant and low-income children.

Rob Manning/OPB


 
“At the beginning we had migrants that were not just Hispanic,” Rule recalled. “We had Vietnamese and other Asian cultures. Around 2005, it started changing and started to be mostly Hispanic, and now it’s 100 percent Hispanic.”
 
And Rule said recent, rising housing costs have forced out many of Portland’s Hispanic migrants.  
 
“They went to Vancouver, some have moved to Gresham and other areas. Because the housing problems we’re having right now, it’s so expensive to live in Portland. And most of our families have left,” Rule explained. 
 
That makes the summer program for migrants smaller – and more difficult to run.
 
“That becomes an issue: it’s what makes a viable program?” said Kathy Gaitan, assistant director of funded programs — the top administrator of the migrant student summer school. “In Oregon City, for example, they don’t have sufficient numbers of students from what I understand, so they contract with Canby, which has a very large migrant student population and a large summer school program.”
 
The summer program runs only two school buses to pick up students. It means not serving whole Portland neighborhoods.
 
The program leans on volunteers, particularly parents.
 
“These two are moms, they’re volunteering, also helping the kids, they’re doing pre-assessment, also, as part of the program …” Gaitan pointed out, walking down a hallway where parents are squeezed in next to short tables. Children as young as three and four years old take tests on laptop computers.

Silvia Moreno Aguilar and her daughter, Princessa, both show up every day to Portland's summer school for migrant students. Aguilar volunteers while her daughter takes classes.

Silvia Moreno Aguilar and her daughter, Princessa, both show up every day to Portland's summer school for migrant students. Aguilar volunteers while her daughter takes classes.

Rob Manning/OPB

 The program also offers classes to parents — and even sometimes connects them with higher education.
 
If the program is successful, it means adults may find jobs that keep them from migrating … which in turn could cause the program to shrink.  
 
That’s kind of the story with Silvia Moreno Aguilar and her daughter, Princessa. They’re both at the summer program every day, but when it’s over, they plan to head to farms in Idaho.
 
Princessa is looking forward to it.
 
“For me it’s fun because we get to plant things, we get to work as a team, and I get to learn more things about my parents, than just staying in the city,” she said. 
 
But her mom recently finished a two-year degree in medical assisting. She said going to Idaho takes on different significance.
 
“Now, we are not in a big [economic] need to go outside in the fields, but we are trying to show my kids that if they don’t have a good education, they’re going to stay in the fields and work as hard — like we were working before,” Aguilar said.
 
The mother and daughter have big plans for the future. Princessa, a fifth grader, can explain.
 
“I want to be a doctor, and my mom, she already graduated from medical assistant,” she said. “I’m proud of that because me and my mom, we have a dream of working together. I have to study now. She did her part, now I have to study. And I’m trying so hard now, to study, because it’s one of my dreams.”
 
Portland Public Schools has adjusted recently, by opening the program to students who are low-income, but not migrant. That opens up other, limited federal funds.
 
The migrant summer school wraps up this week.

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