ONTARIO — Ontario High School was packed on Wednesday night for the summer school parent night, where children got to show off everything they’ve been up to at summer school.
Also in attendance were Ontario’s binational teachers, Marisol Ortega and Noemi Espinoza, both coming to Ontario from Jalisco, Mexico. Ortega, who specializes in teaching dance to young children, hosted the main attraction of the night, which was several student dances in the cafeteria. Espinoza, an art teacher, showcased artwork by her class and also painted faces.
Ontario School District has been a part of a binational program for seven years, according to Ontario High School College and Career Coordinator and Parent Involvement Coordinator Teresa Figueroa. During the summer, she transitions to the elementary school and helps with the younger kids.
The Binational Exchange Program is part of an initiative by Ontario School District’s Migrant Education Department and is funded through the U.S. Department of Education and the Ministry of Education in Mexico.
According to Ortega, there is a long interview process for prospective teachers to go through in order to become a binational teacher. After submitting their applications, both Ortega and Espinoza had to go through many steps and many interviews to get the position.
“They choose according to the necessities of the town,” she said.
Espinoza said she got into the binational program because she’s heard about a lot of great experiences from her peers in Mexico.
Figueroa said the program is one of the cornerstones of the School District’s summer school program.
“It’s very important,” Figueroa said. “It’s a great experience for the kids. And it opens them up culturally. I don’t even think we would do summer school if we didn’t have the binational teachers. We always want to have a binational teacher here.”
Having a teacher from Mexico, Figueroa said, is a great experience for the students of Ontario.
“Some of them are second generation and, because they were born here, they don’t really know that cultural part of their life, you know, like the dances,” Figueroa said. “Some kids might not get that from their family, so to get that piece from one of the teachers it’s great.”
Figueroa also said having the binational teachers is important for the non-Hispanic/Latino students as well. Between the multiple schools, there is Arabic, Somali and Spanish taught on top of English, and the students get to get a taste of each of those cultures.
“To learn that culture from a different culture is just really exciting,” she said. “They were excited to learn the dances and to dress up.”
Ortega said being an ambassador for Mexican culture is very important to her.
“We are here to share our culture. Mexican culture,” Ortega said. “Some of the kids can speak Spanish. But some of them come from Mexican families, like third generation, so now they don’t speak any Spanish or they don’t know about Mexican culture. So that’s why we are here to share this.”
In the leadup to the family night, students in Espinoza’s class were supposed to perform a song but were unable to do it.
“One of the parents was saying it’s very important that they learn,” Espinoza said. “They were going to perform a song and they didn’t after all and the parent was like, ‘No, I want her to learn to sing this.’ So you can see that they’re not teaching it so it’s important that they can learn this.”
The binational teachers always stay with host families, usually a district employee. When the teachers aren’t in class, they are able to go and explore their area.
Ortega said the two enjoyed getting to see Four Rivers Cultural Center. They’ve also been to Pendleton to see the underground tour and visit the casino. They’ve also been as far as Crater Lake.
The teachers were also invited to a wedding by one of their host families, where they got to experience both the wedding and the “cowboy culture” that was involved.
“If you’re here as a teacher it’s because we love to know about different cultures,” Ortega said. “It’s not only to share my culture, it’s to know more about different cultures. That’s why we say, ‘Yes, I want to go there.’”
But it’s not all free time this summer for the binational teachers. They are also still doing work for their home schools alongside their work with Ontario School District, and the program asks them to do a lot of demographic work.
The difficult part is they have families who they miss.
“There’s sacrifices,” Espinoza said. “But we’re grateful to learn and come over here to see this place.”