Already facing educational disadvantages and hurdles to begin with, not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop 51 students graduating from this year’s Migrant Education Program in the InterMountain Education Service District.
Unable to hold a large celebration due to the virus that already altered high school graduation around the country, the program held a small celebration at Umatilla’s West Park on Saturday, June 27, to honor the Class of 2020’s success in wake of unprecedented challenges.
“Usually other students have their parents to do their FAFSA for them and all the other paperwork,” said Brenda Flores, the program’s graduation specialist, who previously graduated from Stanfield High School in 2014 and became a first-generation college graduate at Western Oregon University. “But for me and for others, we have to do it all ourselves.”
Migrant students are youths whose parents move between school districts and throughout the country for seasonal work, often either in the agricultural or fisheries industries, and many are looking to become first-generation high school and/or college graduates.
Flores said locally that can mean many students whose parents are generally unfamiliar with the American education system and can be challenged by how to fill out college admissions, financial aid and scholarship applications. While parents are generally supportive of their kids pursuing a diploma and a higher education, Flores said, these challenges can leave many migrant students trying to figure things out on their own.
“As a graduation specialist, I help them navigate that,” Flores said. “And I help the parents understand the importance and what steps they need to take so they also can start learning about the system.”
Elizabeth Andrade was one of the students honored June 27 after graduating from Irrigon High School this year. She plans on attending Eastern Oregon University in the fall to study business administration and credited the Migrant Education Program for both helping her realize what opportunities were available to her and helping her take advantage of them.
“They really helped me explore my options and become aware that they weren’t limited,” Andrade said.
Rosy Madrigal graduated as a co-valedictorian of Umatilla High School and is headed to the College of Idaho, where she’s entering as a psychology major though she’s not settled on it quite yet.
“I think it was really helpful to have their support,” Madrigal said of the Migrant Education Program.
Briana Duron, also a graduate from Umatilla High School, spent some of her high school education enrolled in classes at Blue Mountain Community College and already earned an associates degree to go with her diploma.
“It was really stressful at times and took a lot of patience,” Duron said while highlighting how Flores and the district helped by establishing study groups for her to attend.
After her intensive studies these past years, Duron is taking some time off before attending a college or university in hopes of exploring the rest of the country first.
“I want to travel and do things that I didn’t do when I was so focused on school,” she said.
For Flores, it’s a joy to return to the area and help students achieve similar success that she did just years ago.
“With everything that I’ve learned through my experience, it’s nice to be able to help them to succeed,” Flores said. “I tell the students my story so they know what they can achieve as well.”