Anabel Ortiz-Chavolla speaks to graduates and their families during the Ontario High School Migrant Education Program commencement. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

ONTARIO – For the past two years Adriana Juarez spent her summers setting gopher traps and cleaning onions with her dad in Ontario.

This year, the 18-year-old said she’s simply going to enjoy her summer.  

Juarez was one of 59 students who graduated from the Ontario School District’s Migrant Education Program. 

On Friday, May 31, parents, students and administrators celebrated the students’ achievements, which included collecting nearly $500,000 in financial aid and scholarships. 

It’s a group that faces unique challenges, said Melissa Gonzalez, family coordinator for the state Department of Human Services.

“The goal is to keep the students in school,” said Gonzalez, who works with schools in Ontario, Nyssa and Vale. 

Migrant students, she added, often struggle with transportation and attendance. 

It’s not uncommon for older kids to bear the duty of childcare for younger siblings while parents work in the fields, Gonzalez said. 

The federally funded migrant education program was created in 1966 to address those challenges. 

The program funds academic, counseling, childcare and other services for migrant children. 

The grants make it possible for students such as Juarez to attend leadership camps that help them graduate high school and prepare for the next step, said Anabel Ortiz-Chavolla, director of federal programs in the Ontario School District. 

Ortiz-Chavolla said one of the goals is to involve parents by keeping them informed of the opportunities available, she added. 

“The key is building that rapport with the parents,” she said. “We are creating a pathway for them here at the schools.” 

At Friday’s fully bilingual graduation celebration, students gave a special recognition to important people in their lives. Many chose their parents.

As she spoke, Ortiz-Chavolla greeted a father who had come to the ceremony straight from working in the fields. 

He apologized for being late and still in work clothes. But he made it. 

“It shows you how much they care,” said Ortiz-Chavolla. “It gives me goose bumps.”

Reporter Yadira Lopez: yadira@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377

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