Hillsboro resident and Mexico native Luis Moreno tells everyone that this isn’t the end; it’s the beginning to a college degree and a new job.
Moreno is the first to graduate from the new High School Equivalency Program (HEP), based at Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus, 17705 N.W. Springville Road.
HEP, a sister program of the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), assists migrant and seasonal farm workers and members of their immediate family in obtaining a GED, and, after graduation, placement in post-secondary education, employment or employment upgrade or military services.
“I’m happy to be the first person, but I’m not feeling that this is it,” said Moreno, who came to Oregon nine years ago to join his brother. “I’m still going. It’s just the beginning for me. On the last day we had a celebration and I spoke to the other students. I tried to motivate them to do a good job and continue with their education. It’s a very good program and it gives you the chance to finish your GED, and gives you a lot of motivation to go finish your certificate.”
$2 million federal grant targets local need
The accomplishments of Moreno, and the students who follow him in the years to come, were made possible when Portland Community College scored a five-year, $2.24 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education last year. The grant will serve 100 students per year and sustain up to eight program staff members who will work to fill a gap in education for an underserved population.
Oregon has the fifth-largest migrant and seasonal farm worker population in the country and 25 percent live in the Northwestern part of the state. This is the only HEP program in this area as the other three existing programs in Oregon that serve the seasonal worker population are run by the University of Oregon (Eugene), and Treasure Valley (eastern Oregon) and Chemeketa (Salem area) community colleges. With the Latino student enrollment at PCC increasing by 20 percent last year from Oregon’s surging Hispanic population, the HEP services should be well utilized.
The program recruits potential students from Clackamas, Washington, Multnomah, Yamhill and Columbia counties with most coming from Washington County, which has a rich farming industry. This year, beginning on Monday, Aug. 22, HEP will offer classes in Cornelius, serving the Forest Grove/Cornelius service area. Eventually, HEP will expand to additional sites in Newberg and Clackamas County.
Program’s first director can relate to his students
Beto Espindola, a HEP and CAMP graduate himself, is the program’s first director, joining the college last February after working with migrant and seasonal farm workers the last 25 years in Washington’s Yakima Valley. He said HEP has served around 75 students already with about 20 of those who are in the process of graduating in the next few months. The average age of this first cohort is about 30 years old and most are employed.
“Most students who come into the program are thinking GED, but once we start talking to them about plans beyond that, ideas start forming and they start thinking, ‘Ah maybe I can do something else beyond the GED,’” said Espindola. “They start seeing the possibilities which is the secondary objective for all HEP students.
“One of the things we never struggle with is motivation by the students,” he added. “They show up; their attendance is great.”
He said the program’s adviser works with the each student to layout an educational plan that allows them to explore possibilities beyond the GED. Eventually, Espindola projects 85 percent of the graduates will be placed in English as a Second Other Language and other academic programs, employment or military services. The HEP effort is very important, he said, in helping the migrant and farm worker population realize their options in education locally.
“It’s crucial, quite honestly,” he said. “I think the navigation of the college system is something that most migrants don’t understand. They simply have not been exposed to the complex system. The admission and registration processes are the types of things that if you aren’t exposed to them you just aren’t going to learn them. The fact that we are bringing folks on campus and, in the process, are exposing them to the college environment is an added value to the individual student and the college as well.”
HEP program puts students through rigorous test
The program includes free GED classes and testing fees, books, supplies, transportation and meal stipends, plus reduced childcare. Program participants take 12 hours of GED instruction per week, plus tutoring services. HEP graduates receive free PCC tuition, up to 12 credits, that must be used within a year. Students can transition to the PCC system or other educational options that best meet their specific needs.
Potential students go through a rigorous application process, which includes verification of migrant status, placement testing and personal admission interview. If a student gets through the initial screening and the 17-week program, an underserved population of Oregon will have a much brighter future, Espindola added.
Many are like Moreno, in that they are engaged in various types of manual labor in their communities. But unlike most of his fellow HEP students, he had been taking ESOL and science classes at PCC’s Rock Creek Campus before enrolling in the program, which made the transition into HEP easier.
“Every fall and winter I enrolled at PCC because my job changed,” he added. “I try to keep busy in my time. I wanted the challenge to finish my GED. It was easy for me, I studied a lot, and most of my fellow students are doing well, too. I want to get a different job. I want to be more than what I’m doing now. It was a big step that I just did and I’m glad to be here at PCC.”
For more information about this program, call Beto Espindola, HEP director, at (971) 722-7760.