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A Boost for Oregon's English-Language Learners

Mentors are needed across the state for ASPIRE, a program that pairs middle school and high school students with mentors to help kids explore and consider college and career options. Courtesy: ASPIRE.
Mentors are needed across the state for ASPIRE, a program that pairs middle school and high school students with mentors to help kids explore and consider college and career options. Courtesy: ASPIRE.
July 2, 2015

SALEM, Ore. – Oregon will soon be rethinking the way English-Language Learner (ELL) students are taught – and how funds are spent in support of that mission, after Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill into law this week to convene an advisory group on the matter.

One state-sponsored program is already demonstrating success in keeping teens motivated to do well in middle school, high school and beyond, no matter what language they speak.

Lori Ellis, administrator of ASPIRE, says the program pairs kids with volunteer mentors who stay in touch throughout the year, and help kids consider what their next steps could be.

"The volunteer mentor can start talking with them about, 'Okay, yes, you're in the here-and-now. But what are you thinking about after high school?'" says Ellis. "Get them to start thinking about their future, give them a sense of hope and a feeling of, 'Somebody cares about me.'"

ASPIRE stands for Access to Student assistance Programs in Reach of Everyone. About 9,800 students received mentoring in the program during the last school year. Ellis says ASPIRE always needs more mentors, in every region of the state. Mentors receive training and ongoing support, and can work with several students at a time.

Details about the program are available on the Oregon Student Aid website, oregonstudentaid.gov.

Ellis notes there's a need in many areas for bilingual mentors, particularly Spanish-speakers who understand the dynamics of growing up in an immigrant family that can affect a student's academic and career choices.

"A lot of them need to help out with their family, and they don't have that culture of education in their family," says Ellis. "They may need to get a job, or while the parents work they need to be taking care of the kids at home and helping keep the household going."

This summer, ASPIRE also has a pilot program under way for new high school graduates to ensure they'll head to college in the fall. Graduates receive regular email messages reminding them about important dates and milestones leading up to their freshman year, and mentors are available to them by email.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR