From left: Josh Deanda, migrant graduation specialist, and Gabe Fuentes, migrant program supervisor, pause after morning house calls to Nyssa Migrant Program students on Sept. 10. (Aidan McGloin/The Enterprise)

NYSSA—Most Nyssa students aren’t attending class in-person, but that doesn’t mean the district is giving up on making contact with them.

To keep students engaged and logging on to classes, Nyssa School District’s Migrant Students Program is checking in on the 900 students across Nyssa, Vale and Ontario who participate in the program if they miss class for a day.

Three-fourths of the students that don’t log on to virtual classes can’t due to Wi-Fi issues, said Gabe Fuentes, migrant program supervisor. The other students are among those simply not showing up for class.

The drastic increase of students logging on to the internet daily for virtual classes is a bit more than the digital infrastructure can bear, he said.

The hotspots the district is distributing aren’t working as well as they did last year. Before, one hotspot could provide enough access for multiple students to Zoom in to classes, said Fuentes.

Now, he can’t get on a Zoom call with a hotspot without glitches.

Fuentes gets up to 20 calls every morning about connectivity issues, a problem compounded by households that have several students sharing the same hotspot.

It’s a major worry for students, who worry that their missed attendance will count against them because of a factor they can’t control, said Fuentes.

The school district bought 150 more hotspots in anticipation of digital learning, for a total of 250. Every family who said they needed one has been given a hotspot, but the district is giving out more hotspots to students from multi-student households who say they have difficulty logging on. If the 250 hotspots run out, the district may buy Wi-Fi service for the families, said Fuentes.

The program also allowed students to take classes in the Nyssa School District’s parking lot, using the district’s more reliable Wi-Fi. Only one student took them up on that offer, for a day, said Fuentes.

The district is being lenient on its attendance policies.

If students don’t show up, and it’s because of a tech issue, it doesn’t get counted against their attendance, said Fuentes. Teachers have been taping their classes and making them available later in the day, so students can watch later and still get credited for attending.

During house visits he began at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 10, with Josh Deanda, migrant graduation specialist, Fuentes attempted to deliver two more hotspots, but could only deliver one. No one came to the door of the one home. Fuentes later found out the student was working.

In a time of distance, the program keeps students and parents engaged.

One student was 95% done with one online class, and had to finish that small remaining percent to get any credit from it. Deanda promised a $5 Dutch Bros card if he completed the class.

“When they do something right, we try to tell them,” said Fuentes.

Fuentes told one parent her son was just short of completing his online classes. He needs to be online for an hour to receive credit, but only has been logging on for fifty minutes, a shortfall Fuentes said could have just been from a misunderstanding over the course requirements. 

At the end of the rounds, he picked up a student in a van for testing at the school. The process is safe in an era of Covid – the student tested in a room alone. Fuentes has had to explain the process to parents who are understandably worried about Covid risk, and convince them it was safe, he said.

A lot of students in the program are being raised by a single working mother after their fathers were deported, causing difficulty in education even in the best situation. Some of the students have begun working jobs outside of school to support their siblings.

Fuentes is proud of his connection to the migrant community. He was in Nyssa’s Migrant Education Program from 1984 until 1996, when he graduated.

“It gave me a lot of opportunities my mom and dad couldn’t get me,” Fuentes said.

Deanda also grew up in the program, and said working in it now is a form of giving back to the school which made him graduate.

“I wouldn’t have graduated without Nyssa High School. I tell people that all the time,” said Deanda. 

The Migrant Students Program is federally funded and was created in 1965. It has grown in popularity in Oregon the past decade because of improved recruitment, said Fuentes.

The Nyssa program has six workers now: Deanda, Fuentes, Edith Gonzales, family involvement; Angela Sanchez, migrant recruiter; Briseida Trapero, school readiness specialist and Crystal Rojas, data specialist.

Fuentes credits some of the program’s success to Ontario School District’s Migrant Students Program, which often had such programs in place before they were required by the state and which he has worked closely with, he said.

Some of the work they normally would be doing prior to the pandemic has been supplanted by house visits and check-ins, said Fuentes.

Normally, Deanda would spend most of his time meeting with students about college applications and career paths, and Fuentes would be going through training and paperwork, but the program is helping students where they need it most, said Fuentes.

PRIOR COVERAGE

Small, short, but in-person: a return to the classroom for some schools

Nyssa students go to class, at home

AROUND OREGON: Schools in 17 Oregon counties can open for young children but educators aren’t ready to teach face-to-face

News tip? Contact reporter Aidan McGloin at [email protected] or at 541-473-3377.

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