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'No Excuses University' blooms at Reedville


Pacific's Tristin Jarmer guides at-risk Hillsboro grade-schoolers toward college

Daan Javier Solis wants to be a scientist when he grows up. Today, his parents work in a nursery.

Fernanda Benito Loza dreams of becoming a teacher. Her mom cleans houses, while her father works as a landscaper.

Their classmates dream of careers as dentists, doctors, artists and police officers. by: COURTESY PHOTO: PARRISH EVANS - Tristan Jarmer, who is pursuing her master of arts in teaching degree at Pacific University in Forest Grove, teaches a class filled with economically disadvantaged students at Reedville Elementary in Hillsboro.

The third- and fourth-graders in Tristin Jarmer’s class at Reedville Elementary School have big dreams. And Jarmer, a 2012 graduate of Pacific University’s master of arts in teaching program, hopes to help those dreams come true.

Reedville Elementary was established in 1847 and later became its own one-school district in what is now Hillsboro. In the mid-1990s, the school was incorporated into the Hillsboro School District, but it still retains its own sense of identity and community.

The school is currently home to a population of students who would be classified as “high need.” More than 95 percent of the students come from economically disadvantaged homes, and more than two-thirds are designated as English language learners.

Jarmer’s class, specifically, is a mixed-age group of third- and fourth-grade students all from primarily Spanish-speaking homes. The vast majority of her students’ parents hail from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, and the class is taught in both English and Spanish — a dual language model designed to ensure students are developing their language skills and also getting the age-appropriate instruction they need in other subjects.

The school also is lucky to have tremendous community support, from area churches that donated playground equipment and iPads to Intel engineers who visit volunteer weekly and talk to the students about science and technology.

Sometimes, though, academics comes in second to the realities of students’ lives. At least nine of Jarmer’s students have parents or close family members who have been deported. Many guardians work multiple jobs. Some live in multifamily housing or homes filled with extended family members.

“I know which kids’ parents and family members have been deported, which need a backpack [of weekend food] on Fridays, who needs the school to buy them winter coats,” Jarmer said. “I think we talk a lot in this class about immigration, deportation, language barriers; those struggles and obstacles.”

They also talk a lot about the future.

Reedville has adopted "No Excuses University" as a model for college and career readiness. As part of a nationwide network of schools in the program, each classroom selects a college or university as its sponsor. Students learn about the university, its location and its programs. They try to take a tour if it’s nearby, and they collect shirts and stickers from the school. Each class presents what they’ve learned about their selected university at a school-wide assembly sometime during the year.

In the meantime, their teachers talk — regularly — about college not as an abstract idea but as a reality for the students’ future.

“Really, the focus is academic potential. You will go to college,” Jarmer said.

— Jenni Luckett is editor of Pacific, the magazine of Pacific University in Forest Grove, in which this story was originally published.