Teaching a transition

Because of budget constraints in public school systems, it can be a challenge for students like Javier Monroy-Perez, a six-year-old “English Language Learner” at Lynch Wood Elementary School, to receive the extra help they sometimes need.

But the Migrant Education Program, which has a partnership with Portland State, aims to change that. Through the program, Javier receives one-on-one tutoring and help with assignments.

Laurel Auda-Capel, an educational assistant for the Centennial School District, helps Javier and other students in the program. She also serves as a social-services resource by helping families make an easy transition into life in Oregon by doing home visits and serving as a translator not just at schools, but also at clinics, hospitals and wherever else translation is needed.

“I love the way it feels in a classroom, but to be able to go home and see where they’re really from…we get to be so much more personal with these families than a teacher,” Auda-Capel said. “I almost don’t want to have my own classroom at all because I wouldn’t be able to do this, have this personal relationship with these people.”

Javier is excelling in school, and hates to miss even a day. Several weeks ago he was sick and had to stay home, so Auda-Capel “brought him his homework at home, and he was so excited to do it he ran in the other room, did his homework, and brought it back out to me,” she said.

The Migrant Education Program formed a partnership with Portland State in 1988, and hundreds of PSU students have acted as educational assistants and helped thousands of migrant students in Portland Schools. The Graduate School of Education at PSU is actively involved with the program and the struggle to address the needs of the migrant population in Portland.

Though the focus of an educational assistant is mainly on the academic performance of the children, they are called upon to provide community support and resources, like helping a family find housing and transportation. The program also provides a summer school program and health insurance solely for migrant ELL students.

“It’s so scary being an immigrant, especially for children. To show them that there are teachers there that are able to speak to them, it’s kind of a special place for them to escape being in this new culture,” Auda-Capel said.

ELL is the acronym for programs formerly called English as a Second Language, or ESL programs. The name was changed in recognition that many students are learning English as a third, fourth or even fifth language. Though the majority of families served in Oregon are Latino, the program serves many populations, including Vietnamese, Hmong and Laotian.

Research shows that individual attention like that provided by these programs greatly increases the academic performance of these students, said both Steve Ihrig, coordinator of the Migrant Education Program for the Centennial School District in Portland, and Ray DeMarco, his counterpart for Portland Public Schools.

Javier’s mother Patricia Perez is very grateful for the help they receive from Laurel and the Migrant Education Program.

“Es buena programa,” she said, or in English, “It’s a good program.”

Javier and his parents, Patricia and Vidal Monroy Casta�eda, moved to Oregon last August in search of work. Auda-Capel heard about the new student and called the family at home to see if they were eligible for the education program.

To qualify for the educational program, a family must have moved to work or look for work in agriculture, which includes working in fields, canneries and nurseries. Because of cold weather affecting the crops, Javier’s father eventually got a construction job instead, but the family was still able to enroll because he had applied to work as an apple picker.

The Minority Teacher Act of 1991 established state goals of matching the proportion of minority teachers and administrators to the proportion of minority students by 2001, but indeed the gap has grown because the Act was “not funded,” said Julie Esparza Brown, program director of PSU’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway Program, a program which recruits bilingual and bicultural staff who are already educational assistants like Auda-Capel. The Bilingual Teacher Pathway Program directly addresses the goals set out in the act and also works with Ray DeMarco and Migrant Education Project to increase the numbers of minority professionals working in Oregon schools.

The program at Portland State preceded Oregon’s Minority Teacher Act by three years and earned an Urban Impact Award for the PSU/Portland Public Schools Tutor Project in 2002.

In 2001, the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Policy and the Oregon University System put out “Minority Teacher Report: a Ten-Year Retrospective” which found that the number of minority teachers, including administrators, employed by school districts and education service districts was only 4.1 percent, while minority youth made up 19.3 percent of the student population.