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School benefits migrant, local students

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Polson Middle School is quieter this week than the last, when students began disappearing from the hallways as quickly as cherries disappeared from the orchards. 

The tapering off of students participating in the migrant summer was expected, according to director Tim Berg. Students have a short window of time at the migrant school, but the time spent there plays a critical role in supplementing the education of students whose academic needs often are secondary to family financial demands. 

Most of the students leave school before the end of the academic year and start back to school late as their families travel between the Yakima Valley and local cherry orchards to pick crops in the summer. The migrant school program communicates with orchard growers to see when the children will arrive and sets up bus stops to pick children up early in the mornings. 

“We have to be in constant communication with the orchard owners about when the worker are going to get here,” Berg said. “This year was a little bit different that other years in that the people who pick the cherries arrived very quickly, almost on the same day. We had the largest number of kids on our first day. We started with 130 kids the first day. It usually starts off a little bit slower and lets us adjust.” 

Other than the abrupt arrival, an unexpectedly high number of younger preschool age children, and some funding cuts due to federal sequester that required minor adjustments, the program this year went predictably well, Berg said. 

Teachers taught students math-based curriculum that focuses on concepts such as fractions and decimals that are often difficult for young students to grasp. 

“It fills in the gaps,” Berg said. “You have some students who are super bright and you have some who struggle. You a have a wide variety of ability levels.” 

Teachers work to make learning fun, so students want to participate. 

“Nobody is forcing them to come in so it has to be enjoyable,” Berg said. “We took them to the bowling alley and the Ronan fair.” 

In addition to engaging students’ minds, the program plays a critical role in safety. 

“There is a huge safety factor in getting the kids out of the orchards where it’s an industrial environment,” Berg said. “We realize especially for the little kids it’s important to get them away from the orchard where there is equipment and work taking place and the parents are engaged in working to make a living.” 

The program’s benefits extend beyond the children being taught. Chadelle Smith is a freshman at Polson High School who volunteered for the migrant program. Each morning she had bus duty at 6 a.m., and comforted children sometimes reluctant to leave their parents in a strange new place. She worked with them in the classrooms throughout the day. 

“It’s just so rewarding,” Smith said. “The kids become attached to you … Like in the mornings when you do bus duty and they’ll remember you and come give you a huge hug. It just makes you feel great. You see how they grow up and build and you feel like a little part of their lives.” 

 

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