‘Eyes that watch, ears that listen’: Portland-area schools improve kindergarten success with expanded summer programs


Nine 3-year-olds from Hillsboro collapsed in an uneven circle on the mat as their teacher Eliette Gonzalez led the class in The Listening Song.

She pointed to his eyes, ears, mouth and arms. “Ojos mirando, oídos escuchando, voces tranquilas, cuerpos tranquilos. Así es como escuchamos. The eyes look, the ears listen, the voices are silent, the bodies calm down. That’s how we listen.

Gonzalez, whom his summer students call master, or Spanish teacher, asked who was ready for an activity. Little arms drawn in the air.

This summer, the Hillsboro School District Bilingual Enrichment Program is serving nearly 100 pre-K students, doubling the number of early learner enrollments from last summer. Portland Public Schools is providing a kindergarten boost for students who need it at 19 of its schools and the Beaverton School District has both expanded their programs for students entering kindergarten in the fall, a goal that the Hillsboro School District has for next summer.

The Legislature allocated $150 million in state funds for summer learning grants this year, after seeing the success of the $200 million invested in K-12 summer programs in 2021. A huge injection of federal pandemic aid has also helped school districts expand summer programs for young learners. this year, most with a focus on students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, and those with special needs.

In Hillsboro, where Gonzalez works as a bilingual pre-kindergarten assistant during the school year, she presented the children with a sheet of paper with a large dotted circle, showed them how to draw and color it, then sent them to tables to do this on their own.

Gawking in concentration, a boy named Eduardo Paz Lujan vigorously outlined his dotted circle three times, then raised his marker and smiled at his work. He lifted the piece of paper above his head to show mastersmiling.


Portland Public Schools spent $15 million on summer programs this year, with Oregon’s largest district having never spent on summer education. The district has added two sites to its longstanding transition to kindergarten program, which will be housed at the 18 elementary schools in Portland that serve the highest concentration of low-income students and Markham Elementary, the only school to be served. on the west side of town. , from July 18.

For three weeks, nearly 300 young learners will spend Monday through Thursday at the school they will attend in the fall to ease the transition to kindergarten. The architects of the program prioritized the enrollment of students with disabilities and those who did not attend kindergarten. They will practice their social skills, get to know the teachers and staff, and learn where the lunchroom and restrooms are. They’ll sing songs, enjoy story time, and practice using pencils and crayons. Previous research in the districts has shown that program participants have higher kindergarten attendance rates and academic achievement.

“The goal is to create a sense of community,” said Katrina Edward, academic program administrator overseeing early learning at Portland Public Schools. “When we don’t take the time to build community, school becomes a series of tasks, not learning.”

Edward said the district has revised the summer reading program so books are bilingual and reflect students’ lived experiences. “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” was replaced with “Thank You, Omu!”, the story of a Nigerian-American girl who cooks a stew and shares it with her neighbors.

Parents will meet twice a week during the program to learn about school and district resources available to families and typical child development in kindergarten. Program organizers also help parents build community among themselves. The neighborhood offers child care for siblings while parents meet.

Edward said there was a slight drop in enrollment this year compared to last year, when the program was only partially in-person, so parents didn’t have to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs. daily returns.


Since 2020, the Beaverton School District has more than tripled the number of students served through summer programming.

“We don’t know how much longer we’ll get this kind of funding,” said Vanessa Davalos, Administrator for Extended Learning and Family Engagement. “But as long as we have it, we want to serve as many children as possible.”

Camp Achieve is a three-week summer program that focuses on rebuilding skills lost or underdeveloped during the pandemic, including reading, math, and group communication. Students are recruited by invitation only – identified teachers and school staff in grades one through five particularly affected by the pandemic who they believe would particularly benefit from the additional exposure in the classroom.

All 34 elementary schools in the district are hosting the camp this summer, with up to 100 students per campus. The district has hired more than 70 teachers and staff, recruiting full-time and substitute teachers as well as applications for educators from outside the district network. Teachers receive a bonus of $250 for every three consecutive days worked.

Christina Peterson, accounting assistant for Camp Achieve, has a 7 and 12 year old in their second summer of the program. She said she saw a drastic improvement in her second-grader’s ability to make friends and socialize with others after the program, which helped lessen the impact of a year of virtual learning and spend a lot of time in front of a screen.

“They were so impatient,” Peterson said. “They begged me to enroll them again this year.”

The school district also offers KinderAcademy, a four-day program for students entering kindergarten in the fall. The program has grown from 15 schools to 31 schools, serving more than 1,800 children this year.

“We want the experience to reflect what it would be like when they enter kindergarten,” said Kayla Bell, Beaverton School District’s Early Learning and Elementary Program Administrator.


Entering its 40th year this summer, the Hillsboro School District’s Bilingual Summer Enrichment Program offers five classes for pre-K students, each with fewer than 20 students. The program prioritized enrolling migrant and bilingual students, but welcomed English speakers who participate in the district’s bilingual program.

Most courses are taught in English and Spanish, while each level has one that focuses on English to help migrant students learn the language. More than 40% of students in the district identify as Hispanic.

Classes focus on preparing students for fall kindergarten, teaching skills such as how to align, express feelings in healthy ways, and resolve conflict with a friend.

“We don’t just teach what a circle is,” said Brenda Faulder, who directs the program’s pre-kindergarten section. “We teach children how to talk to each other and how to navigate the world around us.”

The program has also hired a full-time counselor, a special education teacher, a librarian, a Guatemalan teacher focused on Central and Latin American activities, and a music teacher who will help students mount a cultural music production at the end of the three week program.

Students receive breakfast and lunch. Unlike some summer programs from previous years, the current district offerings are completely free for families.

The district also received a Jump Start Kindergarten grant, $25,000 each summer for three years to support young learners in high-poverty schools. Officials plan to use the funds in August to send kits of books, stationery and Play-Dohs to students entering kindergarten to encourage exploratory learning.

Arcema Tovar, Hillsboro’s director of multilingual programs, said the plan is to create a program similar to Beaverton’s KinderAcademy for next summer.

Back at Eliette Gonzalez’s class in Room 102, a girl named Alyson Garcia hit her classmate Alison Robleto’s head with a baby blue saucepan in the kitchen.

“Ouch,” Alison said.

Becerra, the educational assistant, saw the accident and rushed in with an age-old remedy.

“Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana,” Becerra sang, rubbing the top of Alison’s head. Get well, get well, little frog tail. If you don’t heal today, you will heal tomorrow.

The Spanish song had been used by Latin American parents and teachers for generations to relieve children of minor pains. “It’s miraculous to see how it works every time,” said Maricruz Acuna, manager of this year’s bilingual summer program.

Alison smiled at Becerra as the song ended and continued cooking with her friend.

Rose Wong covers early childhood education for The Oregonian/OregonLive. Contact her at rwong@oregonian.comcall her at 971-666-7224 or follow her @rosebwong

This story is brought to you through a partnership between The Oregonian/OregonLive and Report for America. Find out how to support this crucial work.


Comments are closed.