Class helps kids with interrupted educations

TALENT — Glue sticks, strips of colored paper and words printed on 10 small pieces of paper were the physical pieces of an exercise in sentence structure that eight students in a migrant education summer class undertook at Talent Elementary School Thursday.

The students, who will be in third grade this fall, sorted the 10 words onto a grid with spots for nouns, verbs and other words. After that, they created a sentence by pasting the words on the yellow strips.

"Is there another word that means a person, place or thing?" teacher Kim Rojas asked Dereck Velasquez as he worked on the task. Velasquez selected the word "trash."

Phoenix-Talent School District 4 is offering summer migrant education for 29 students at Talent Elementary, 20 at Talent Middle School and 30 at Phoenix High School.

Federal funding supports the program, which is designed for kids whose parents have moved across district lines to obtain seasonal agricultural work, said Charlie Bauer, Jackson County Educational Service District Coordinator of migrant education.

"These are kids who experienced educational interruptions because they are moving around," said Bauer. "If we don't do something to fill in the gaps, they fall behind."

Heather Lowe coordinates the program at Talent Elementary, which includes 14 students headed to fourth grade and seven to fifth. They attend Talent Elementary, Phoenix Elementary or Orchard Hill Elementary during the regular school year.

Two-way immersion classes in the district put roughly equal numbers of English- and Spanish-speaking students together in the lower grades, where instruction is split between both languages, explained Lowe. Students are taught language skills in their native language, but when they enter third grade they will start to learn the other language.

"It is better to learn to read and write in their native languages," said Lowe, who also teaches in the language class. All instruction at the session is in English, although Rojas and an assistant are fluent in Spanish.

"It gives them a head start," Lowe said of the six weeks of instruction that includes 9 a.m. to noon sessions Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Students going into the fourth and fifth grades have two periods of math each day. District scores in math have been low, so leaders decided to make that a focus, Lowe said.

"They teach it in a fun way," said Luis Ortiz, who is going into the fifth grade. "They take lots of time with us."

Such individual instruction is less common during the regular school year, when a class may have more than 30 students, said teacher Linda Cooley.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for them to have personal attention. You can zero right in on who needs help," said Cooley, who gives math instruction to students going into the fourth grade.

"It's a great way to build confidence," Cooley added.

In addition to two daily sessions of math or English, all students have a language in art and movement session taught by Jill Fjelheim.

On Thursday, students worked with hula hoops or tried to balance a platter on a stick. Cornelio Carrera Flores of Phoenix balanced a peacock feather on his nose after working on the stick and platter skill.

"I like the art and movement because we get to do activities," said Adrianna Gutierrez.

Students also have recess periods, visit the community garden that is on the school campus and participate in free breakfast and lunch programs offered at the school.

The students often ask if the classes can last longer, Lowe and Cooley said. The final day is July 31.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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