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Mexican teacher boosts Spanish speakers' skills

Tucked into a quiet classroom on the Central Medford High School campus, Celia Rodriguez Guerrero speaks in Spanish and English to a room of a dozen migrant education students.

A guest teacher from Mexico, Rodriguez is helping the high school students, many whose English is limited, with credit retrieval to get on track for classes in the fall.

"They have a lot of gaps in their education," said Terri Dahl, a coordinator for the migrant education program and the Medford School District's supervisor of federal programs. "They're getting extra instruction in areas where they need improvement."

Rodriguez teaches one of five classes on the campus, and several others across the district, all working with migrant students and English language learners. The students are spending the summer on language development and a variety of other courses in order to keep up with their classmates when regular schools reopen in August.

While Rodriguez is teaching at the secondary level, a program at Jackson elementary teaches students entering first through third grades, and another program at Jefferson elementary teaches students entering grades four through six.

"I think it's an excellent program," said Rodriguez, while taking a break from vocabulary work with two students Monday morning. "Students learn English and at the same time can practice Spanish."

Rodriguez is one of six teachers who came to Oregon from Mexico for the summer, and the only one in Southern Oregon.

During the school year, she teaches second grade in Hidalgo, a state two hours north of Mexico City.

Medford's migrant education program has grown from just five students in 2007 to about 200 now, with others still on a waiting list.

While the program serves a largely Hispanic population in Southern Oregon, students of any nationality would be considered migrant learners if they come from a family that has crossed district lines while seeking seasonal agricultural work.

The students struggle to keep up in school because of frequent relocation, and because many are also English language learners.

"A lot of our students have been schooled in Mexico and then come to the United States," said Dahl. "They move to different areas and they're missing classes."

The district uses three streams of federal funding to run the programs, which cost just over $100,000 for the summer.

At the elementary level, the district works with Kids Unlimited, which provides afternoon activities after the students are done with morning classes.

"No question, the migrant ed population has grown dramatically," said Tom Cole, director of Kids Unlimited. "We're trying to remove the barriers for these kids."

During federally required meetings with migrant parents, the Southern Oregon Education Service District listens to parent requests for services and communicates available opportunities.

The summer program has consistently been the most common request from the parents, according to Charlie Bauer, coordinator of ELL and migrant education for the SOESD.

"While in this migrant lifestyle, the parents are really aware of the extra time these kids need," said Bauer.

By utilizing Kids Unlimited's afternoon enrichment, Bauer said, the program is appealing to parents and students, who are able to have a full day of activities during the summer.

The students also are fed both breakfast and lunch while at summer school.

In August, the district will launch its first migrant program for incoming kindergartners, taking place at Washington Elementary Aug. 6 to 17.

Dahl said that program will give migrant preschoolers a leg up on what it's like to attend schools, as many children might not know how to hold a pencil or interact in a classroom environment.

Dahl said she hopes to add more classes for more students over time and watch the migrant education program continue to grow.

"My plan is to add more of these sessions at more schools," said Dahl. "My goal is to have no student on a waiting list."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.

Celia Rodriguez Guerrero, a teacher from Bachuca, Mexico, is a guest teacher in the migrant education program at Central Medford High School, helping local students earn credit toward graduation. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell