MEDFORD, Ore. – While many kids are out enjoying their free time, Ernesto Hernandez is hard at work, flipping through theology notes with about 15 other students in history class.
He says he’s grown used to the hard work since arriving from Mexico three years ago with barely a word of English to his vocabulary.
“It took me like half a year to be able to understand people,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez is one of about 650 migrant students in the Medford School District, 75% of whom are English Language Learners (ELL). Many of their families work in farms and orchards, either moving frequently or working long hours that keep them from home.
And many of those moms and dads set high expectations for their kids to achieve something better.
“My brother barely graduated and my sister didn’t graduate,” said Mayra Navarro, a high school student in Medford’s Migrant Summer School program. “[My mom] really wants me to graduate.”
Medford’s Migrant Summer School is part of a federal mandate to serve migrant kids, some of whom are constantly shifting between districts or even countries.
According to the Medford School District, those educational interruptions can have a big effect. District data shows students with even one interruption between first and 12th grade have a 40% chance of graduating, compared to about 94% for those who stay in the district continuously.
Through individual attention, English language development, and credit recovery, this program hopes to buck that trend.
“It’s about filling in the gaps for these students,” said Terri Dahl, Federal Programs Coordinator and head of Medford’s Migrant Summer School.
Each year the program draws more and more students. In its five-year history, it grew from a class of just four kids to more than 200, plus a waiting list of 25 students.
“We have some parents that are just now finding out about it and calling and wanting to sign up,” said Dahl.
But in order to grow the program and serve more students, program administrators say they need more demand.
The Migrant Summer School runs entirely on Title 1 and Title 1C federal funding. Both programs award more money based on the amount of services they provide.
“The more funds that you put in, the more funds you get the following year,” said Dahl.
Already the summer school has started partnerships with Southern Oregon Head Start and ScienceWorks; brought on a staff of bilingual teachers; and incorporated online, at-home learning in order to provide a unique educational experience.
After experiencing the program for themselves, students say that funding is being put to good use.
“I hope to be right on credits and everything,” said Navarro. “And I’m sure that I will.”
For more on the Migrant Summer School and other resources for migrant students, visit the Southern Oregon Education Service District website here.