Susie Zaragoza works on an essay during the El Club de Sobresalientes Winter Writer Workshop at Southern Oregon Education Service District Tuesday in Medford. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

Helping students help themselves

It may be winter break, but a dozen Hispanic students were hard at work this week in an upstairs classroom at the Southern Oregon Education Service District ensuring a future for themselves.

The high school seniors wrote essays and prepared for college admittance tests as part of the El Club de Sobresalientes Winter Writers Workshop, offered under the ESD's Migrant Education Program.

An overhead board read, "Laborers who were not afraid to work, they told their children that if you want something bad enough, it will happen. Like my father would say, your dreams can be a reality if you just wake up."

Most of the teens are the first in their families to apply for college, many the first to finish high school, workshop organizers said. All have college-worthy grade-point averages, they said.

Students came from Crater, Eagle Point, Phoenix and three Medford high schools to apply for a gamut of college careers, from cosmetology school to medical training.

One of the workshop's mentors is Cesar Flores, a Phoenix graduate and intern counselor.

"I want to help them to see, if I can do it, so can they," Flores said.

Crater senior Ana Aguirre, who worked on an application essay, plans to go to Rogue Community College, then transfer to a university for her nursing degree.

The 18-year-old said she was grateful for help navigating the college application process.

"I'm the first in my family to try to do this. My parents didn't go to school and they didn't have the opportunities that I have," she said. "This is a really good program."

South Medford High School senior Susie Zaragoza, who has applied to Southern Oregon University, worked on an essay and her financial aid information.

"I had nothing started for all this, so I was excited they offered it to us," she said. "I want to be a psychiatric nurse or maybe a policewoman. I'm a people person. I'd be stuck not knowing what to do or where to start without this being offered."

Andreas Horaites, migrant education and English Language Learners specialist, said not one student who was offered the program declined.

"I thought it was impressive that this is the holidays and they could well blow this whole thing off, but when we asked if they wanted to come over break, they didn't even balk," Horaites said.

"They could have said no way. But nearly all of them whipped out their cell phones and called work to get the days off."

Phoenix High School senior Abraham Medina plans to attend Lane Community College and is considering a career in the music and recording industry.

"I think this is really good for us Hispanics," he said. "We don't know much about the process and a lot of our families are not bilingual so they can't help us.

"Before this, I didn't even know where to start."

Horaites said many migrant families place a lot of trust in the school system to help their students learn how to achieve education beyond high school.

"A very small fraction of Mexican youth goes on to high school — and even fewer go to college," he said.

"Parents want their kids to go as far as possible in their education, but they realize that they don't necessarily have the tools to get them there. If parents believe their kids can achieve an education beyond high school, they're very eager for that to happen. We're offering the help the students need to accomplish that."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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