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Latino students get a personal welcome at THS

The school's first Latino Student Orientation Day is a big hit with both staff and students
by: Jaime Valdez, SCHOOL IS COOL — Caren Corona, a Tigard High School sophomore, is exuberant after winning a raffle prize during a Latino orientation event Monday. Raffle prizes included THS bucks and McDonald’s gift certificates.

TIGARD - Sometimes isolating people by ethnicity makes them feel isolated, but at Tigard High School on Monday, it made them feel special.

The school held its first Latino Student Orientation Day to make its Hispanic students feel not only welcome but to make sure they know the ground rules and expectations for succeeding in their academic careers.

'It was arranged to be a special welcome to our Latino kids,' said Matt Kingsley, the school's ELL (English language learners) coordinator. 'It occurred to me that we should let them know the rules and expectations we have and also to show them the relevance of school to their own lives.

'We also wanted to make sure they feel it is their school. Minority students don't always feel welcome, and they don't have as much access to learning the school rules. We talked about it a lot last spring and came up with the orientation day. I think the kids appreciated our efforts.'

Kingsley, who determines incoming students' proficiency in English and their placement in the school, said the staff recognizes that Latino students sometimes have more trouble assimilating into school than non-minorities.

THS administrators - including Principal Pam Henslee and Associate Principals Barb Proctor and Mickey Toft - plus Tigard police school resource officer Dan Gill were in attendance at the beginning of the assembly, held at the track bleachers.

'It was important for the administrators to be there, to show they care,' Kingsley said.

At the beginning of the event, students got a free lunch and heard from several speakers, including John Sena, executive director of the Juvenile Assistance Corps, and Humberto Reyna, former president of the Portland Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

'I tracked down Humberto, because I knew he could give an inspirational talk about how to succeed,' Kingsley said.

Many of the remarks made by the speakers were in both English and Spanish, and following a raffle, students were divided into four groups for breakout sessions.

The students sat through four 25-minute sessions as speakers rotated among them, including Sena, Proctor and Gill, who discussed school expectations.

These include the Student Rights and Responsibility Handbook, positive and negative behavior consequences, gang prevention, security, attendance and skipping school.

Another session, led by Reyna and Diana Thompson, ELL school counselor, concerned academic success.

This encompassed study skills, combating the perception and attitude of failure, school participation, graduation requirements, and ELA and ELD credits.

A third session concentrated on teamwork and leadership, including activities to build them, and information on MECHA, which is the THS Chicano club affiliated with a national group.

Eric Moore with the Juvenile Assistance Corporation and MECHA leadership students led this session.

The last session was about life skills and included information on job skills, social services and community support. It was led by Sue McGee and Andy McFarlane with the CE2 alternative education program, a speaker from the Hillsboro Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Andreina Velasco, migrant recruiter for NWRESD.

'We also passed out a survey to the kids to ask questions like if the school is meeting their needs and to find out ways they might suggest for getting them more involved,' Kingsley said.

'I think this event was a real success. It had to be held at the beginning of the year. The kids had to miss two classes, but this had the full support of the staff.'

The event ended on a positive note with a dance in the cafeteria.