Roxana Chacon is the kind of promising young woman who belongs in school. But when she moved from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Bridgeport last summer, school was just a hope. Work was reality.
“I wanted to go to school, but I needed to work to help out my parents,” Chacon said.
Fortunately, she arrived just as the Bridgeport School District was beginning the Gateway program. She could still work days at Crane and Crane Orchard as a computer operator, keeping inventory and stamping boxes. At nights, she could attend school.
Suddenly, a wealth of new possibilities opened up for the bright, energetic 18-year-old. Improving her English was no longer enough. She became the Gateway program’s star pupil. She earned her GED.
Now, she works two jobs so she can earn enough money for college.
“She thought she was just going to baby-sit this year, and now she has her GED,” Gateway teacher Marcy Wallick said.
“I think it’s important,” Chacon said of Gateway. “It gives students who really want to go to school a chance to learn something, not just work and go home.”
Gateway was designed for Bridgeport’s large migrant population. Many of the migrants need to improve their English or have spent little time in school. Chacon is an example of the possibilities.
Gateway was a challenge for Wallick. She had to start a program from scratch, just a few months after graduating from Western Washington University.
At the beginning, there were no materials, just a first-year teacher and a classroom of students with limited English skills.
“Really, at first, I had nothing to go on,” said Wallick, who also teaches middle school Spanish.
But she persevered. Now, when the first students arrive around 4:30 p.m., they know what to do. Others straggle in as they complete their work day. Sitting at tables, most working alone and some in pairs, they quietly study ancient Roman history or math or science. Wallick teaches in English, but students are allowed to ask questions in Spanish.
Bridgeport received a grant to start Gateway. Superintendent Bob Allen said it may be added as a migrant program once the grant expires. Gateway runs four hours each weeknight during the school year. A 30-day summer session is planned, too. Most students are high school age, but a few are younger.
Chacon quickly worked her way through the Gateway lessons. Soon, Wallick had her star pupil helping other Gateway students. Meanwhile, Chacon was recruiting others at work, telling them over and over again they should be going to school.
Now Chacon works in the admitting and business office at Okanogan-Douglas District Hospital in Brewster. She also works as a nurse’s aide at Harmony House in Brewster.
“If it wasn’t for Gateway, I think I’d still be working at the packing shed or an orchard or at McDonald’s,” Chacon said.
“I owe it all to (Wallick). She was patient. She’d talk to my parents, say, ‘Keep her in school.’ When (my parents) said I had to move to Mexico, she helped me stay.”
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