Malheur County schools ready for summer classes as state money flows in

Clarissa Helliwell, who has taught in dual language programs in Ontario and Nyssa, will teach with OSD Outdoors this summer. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel)

ONTARIO – More local students than usual will be going to school this summer, taking advantage of expanded programs that districts are offering to help students catch up from a rough year of schooling.

School districts are getting unprecedented funding for the expanded teaching – done largely face-to-face with Covid limits still in place.

The grants from the state represent 75% of the Summer Learning Programs’ funding, with 25% then being matched by local school districts. The amounts the districts will receive from the state are displayed in the table below. 

This chart shows the amounts awarded to each district for each program level by the state of Oregon for summer school in 2021. Source: Oregon Department of Education.

School districts can cover summer school expenses out of their grants through Sept. 30. The money can be used for one of three programs.

The Summer Academic Support Program in high schools focuses on credit recovery and will “redress the disruptions caused to students by the pandemic.”

Elementary and middle school programs – the Summer Enrichment/Academic Program – will focus on enrichment activities, academic learning and readiness, and social-emotional and mental health services.

A third program for children from kindergarten through fiftth grade is for those “experiencing high poverty.” 

The Nyssa School District was awarded $135,955 for the poverty program – the only district in Malheur County to seek such funding.

In Vale, superintendent Alisha McBride said it has been 14 years since the district ran a summer school program for elementary-age children. 

“Districts are required to provide a match of 25%, and we’ll be using federal funds for that, so we’re not using any general fund dollars,” she said.

In a normal year, Vale High School would have offered a credit recovery program to allow students to catch up on credits needed for graduation, and Vale Middle School would have offered a program “to help prepare students for high school.” 

In past years, the schools couldn’t provide transportation, and the number of kids they could serve was more limited. This year, transportation and meals will be offered. Approximately half of students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be invited to attend a program that runs from June 7 to July 1, Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 

And approximately a quarter of high school students will be invited to recover credits during that same time period. McBride said that her district hadn’t had to worry about teacher burnout when hiring for the summer programs. 

“We had staff who were interested in participating, so we didn’t have that challenge,” she said. 

In Adrian, superintendent Kevin Purnell said that the funding the district was receiving from the state was “probably close to 10 times what we normally get.” Normally, Purnell said, summer school in Adrian runs with about three teachers and 20-30 students from K-12 during June. 

This year, things are different. 

In addition to providing meals and transportation, Purnell said he was hoping to have around 60 students at the K-8 level, and Billy Wortman, the high school principal, said that he was hoping to have around 25 students at the high school level. 

The K-8 program will be split into two parts: two weeks in June, and then a two-week “jump start” in August. And the high school program will run for three weeks in June and feature credit recovery, but also a college testing preparation course.

In the morning, Purnell said, the students will focus mostly on credit recovery on the computer, with some face-to-face instruction. The afternoon will feature STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) activities. 

“It’s going to be an improvement, because we can get more kids in and serve them with more staff,” said Purnell. 

Ontario normally hosts a federally-funded summer program that lasts for about a month, and will do so again this year. But in addition to the federally funded program in July, there will also be several programs made possible by the state funding.

“I felt that we had to apply for this funding in order to create services for our students because they have missed so much of the last year,” said Anabel Ortiz Chavolla, director of federal programs for Ontario School District. 

In June, there will be a summer camp for students in grades K-12 in collaboration with Four Rivers Cultural Center. The camp will meet in the morning and has space for 59 students. June will also see the beginning of OSD Outdoors, a pilot program for K-8 kids in which a teacher will rotate between three different parks during the week, providing lessons to those who are able to walk to those locations. That program will run through July. 

Ortiz Chavolla said that food and bathrooms for students would be provided at the OSD Outdoors sites. 

For high school students, June will be a month of “intense” credit recovery. Ortiz Chavolla explained that one advantage of the high summer school is that students can be paid a stipend so they don’t have to work.

“It’s a challenge to get students to come in the summer, because they work in the fields or at Dairy Queen,” she said. “Just to be able to do that, and to allow the student to earn their living during the summer – because they do have to help their parents in the summer – it’s a double win right there. If I was a high school student and I was behind, and I had to help my family, I would be like, ‘I can’t go to school because I have to help.’ And this really solves that problem.”

Then, in July, there will be a month of sit-down summer school funded largely through the migrant program. 

Ortiz Chavolla explained because of funding requirements, the demographic makeup of the program typically includes largely migrant students. She clarified, however, that the program is open to all students. 

The curriculum for the July summer school is more focused on “leadership and enrichment opportunities,” Ortiz Chavolla said. 

About 800 students from kindergarten to Grade 11 are enrolled, and Ortiz Chavolla is hoping to hire about 30 student instructional assistants to help with the younger kids. 

In Nyssa, migrant summer school is proceeding for four weeks in June, more or less as it has for the past 40 years – but with an extra 60 students from outside the migrant program, thanks to the extra funding. 

Migrant students from Vale and Adrian are also eligible to attend Nyssa’s summer programming. 

“The focus is to reinforce and give supplemental services to reading and math,” said Gabriel Fuentes, the program’s supervisor. “Keep the learning going during the summer so there is that greater retention. We’re hoping that the reading and math stuff will really help make the transition to next year.”

Fuentes said that this year, in addition to the basics, the program was adding on afternoon enrichment activities, like career and technical education and culinary arts. 

“If you’re there every day during the week, Friday’s enrichment day,” Fuentes said, explaining that the intent was to encourage attendance. 

Fuentes said that the district was lucky to have teachers who were willing to come in for the summer after such a trying year. 

“We just have a nice tradition of teachers really knowing we need to service our migrant students,” he said. 

This will be the first year that Harper Charter School offers a summer program. The program started May 26 and runs through June 17. The main focus for students in kindergarten through eighth grade is math, reading, and science recovery. 

Then, in high school, there is a separate program that gets students into the auto shop. That program is funded through a different grant, not the Summer Learning Program. 

“The main goal of summer school is just to give the kids a chance to continue on in a normal group setting to get back to where they are comfortable in the school,” said David Marker, math teacher for seventh and eighth grade. “And we’re having a lot of fun doing it.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.


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