MOUNT VERNON — At Mount Baker Middle School this summer, students have been hard at work as engineers — building walls and learning about weights, pulleys and pressure.

“We talk about it and then sometimes we actually try it out,” said Matthew Ponce-Rodriguez, a soon-to-be fifth grader. “The most fun part has been learning about engineering.”

Matthew and about 170 other students spent the past month getting hands-on experience with engineering concepts during the Mount Vernon School District’s annual Migrant Summer School program.

“We are providing a meaningful educational opportunity for all of our kids,” said David Rodriguez, the district’s new director of equity and inclusion. “(The migrant program) provides different opportunities for our migrant kids that need different supports.”

The program serves students going into first through ninth grades.

Held since 2006, it provides additional learning opportunities for those who need extra support, especially during the summer when some of their parents are working agricultural jobs.

Aside from homeless students, migrant students are the demographic who need the most support, said school district Superintendent Ismael Vivanco.

“Those with the greatest needs need additional supports,” he said. “This really provides an opportunity for deeper engagement and interaction.”

The summer program, which is held four days a week and consists of about 100 hours of learning, also offers students more time to dig in to their projects, rather than having to switch from subject to subject as they do during a normal school year, said Stacy Brooks-Malcolm, the Migrant Summer School principal.

“For them to be able to process at their own speed is critical,” she said.

This year, the summer school program is also offering a way for the students to get back into the swing of a “normal” school year in the wake of COVID-19, and to reconnect in person with their friends.

“You might not be able to see the smiles under their masks, but you can see it in their eyes,” said Brooks-Malcolm, a first-grade teacher during the regular school year.

In partnership with Vamos Outdoor Project, a nonprofit that focuses on providing outdoor educational experiences for Latinx and English-language learner students, the summer school participants also get to go on weekly outdoor field trips.

Also each week, the students get to showcase their work for their families, which helps involve their families in the school system.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141,, Twitter: @Kera_SVH,

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