By Aedin Wright
The Migrant Education Program (MEP) in Region 11 shines as a bright example of respect and support for Central Oregon students and their families. With a mission to serve children whose parents work in agricultural, food processing, forestry or similar industries, the MEP team helps young learners and engages families who must move frequently to follow seasonal work, which often requires children to change schools throughout the school year. To help these young learners stay on track and feel connected, MEP also offers a summer school program to support and uplift students aged 3 to 22.
In addition to helping students keep up in school, teachers and staff work to honor culture and language and create a space for families to feel welcome.
“This program deeply values the migrant families who form the backbone of our society and recognizes them as often overlooked community members who bring food to all our tables,” explains Kayla Hefling, director of High Desert Education Service District’s Regional Migrant Education Services. “Our goal is to create spaces where families can be really involved with their kids’ education and our mission is to ensure that every migrant student has a fair chance at a great education. It’s about creating community.”
Celebrating and honoring culture
By understanding the unique challenges these families face, the MEP team creates an environment that celebrates diversity and empowers each student. This summer, MEP welcomed two teachers from Mexico as part of a binational teacher exchange program supported by the Oregon Department of Education, the Mexican Consulate and funded by the Central Oregon Health Council.
“On their first day, when the new teachers introduced themselves and explained where they were from, kids jumped up with excitement saying, ‘that’s where my mom was born!’ ‘That’s where my dad is from!’” says Hefling, smiling as she remembers the kiddos’ connection.
Guest teachers Grizelle Caballero from Morelia, Michoacán and Norma Chagoyán from León, Guanajuato joined the program this summer.
For these kids, who straddle two cultures, feeling connected and proud of their heritage is important. Caballero shares, “I think our being here helps these kids rediscover their identity. They have these roots in Mexico, and I like to think we help them feel proud of their roots.” Caballero even brought traditional Mexican dresses to show the kids. It’s clear the exchange teachers serve as living ambassadors and celebration of heritage.
According to Hefling, the program’s success is deeply tied to the active involvement of parents, including participation on a Parent Advisory Committee (PAC), made up of dedicated volunteers who play a crucial role in shaping curriculum and services.
“Our parent participation and engagement is truly amazing,” says Hefling. “Their insights and guidance ensure the program meets the unique needs of our families.”
Additionally, explains Hefling, the committee reaches out to potential community members who may qualify for the program, extending its uplifting impact to even more families in need.
Beyond engaged parents and dedicated international teachers, there is a special staff member who has come full circle. Ruth Lopez, a former student in the program, is now a staff graduation specialist.
“I’m here because I saw the need myself. I lived it. And now I want to give back,” said Lopez. “It’s not just about academics or language barriers, these students go through emotional stuff too. As a kid, I never had long-term friends because, just as I was making connections, we were moving again. And that is really tough on these kids.”
The 2023 6-week summer-school program, serving around 120 students, also provides parent workshops, health care and dental screenings in partnership with Mosaic Community Health and Advantage Dental, and healthy eating/cooking classes with OSU-Cascades.
By recognizing the unique challenges faced by migrant families, the Migrant Education Program goes above and beyond to ensure students have the tools they need to thrive. With a commitment to emotional and academic success, as well as a celebration of cultural heritage, the MEP uplifts the spirits of these young learners, setting them on a path towards a promising future. As the program continues to inspire and empower, it serves as a heartwarming reminder that when the community comes together, it has the power to transform lives and build a brighter tomorrow.