BELLINGHAM — While most students are away from their classrooms on summer break, a lecture hall at Western Washington University’s Miller Hall bustled last week with students.

Displayed on the projector were photos of household products such as cooking oil, cleaning solutions and shampoo — all of which had their labels removed so the high school students could guess what they were.

“You don’t always know what’s inside just by looking at the container,” Richland High School teacher John Bittinger told the students.

That’s a message the staff leading the Dare to Dream Academy through the university’s Woodring College of Education hoped the 100 students from migrant farmworker families would take to heart as they strive to achieve their own dreams.

“For the younger students, it’s about thinking about who they are and where they come from,” said Woodring associate professor Maria Timmons Flores.

The university recently received a $174,375 grant from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to bring students from throughout the region to campus for the weeklong program, which immersed the students in college life.

It’s an opportunity to expose students to college, Timmons Flores said, since many of them may not hear about college regularly from their parents.

“I would say probably every single one of them is going to be a first-generation college student,” Timmons Flores said.

While other state universities host the academy through what is called a “College assistance migrant program” grant, Western does not have such a grant, Timmons Flores said.

However, because a majority of Western Washington’s migrant farmworker families live within 30 miles of Western’s campus, OSPI asked Western to host the academy, the university said in a news release.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Timmons Flores said. “These kids are the American dream. Their families one generation or two generations ago left their homes because of poverty or lack of safety.”

The academy also builds upon the university’s Bridges program, which helps students from migrant farmworker backgrounds graduate from high school and build pathways to higher education, the university said.

The academy is broken into two parts: a “Heroes Journey” section for students going into their freshman and sophomore years of high school, and a math academy for older students, where participants can receive high school credit.

“A lot of them have a strong desire to get an education to make their families and communities better,” Timmons Flores said. “They already see themselves as going out and being leaders in our country.”

They also learn how to apply for financial aid and how to ask for help when they need it, Timmons Flores said.

Thanks to a group of 14 mentors who are either students or recent graduates from the university — many of whom come from families like those of the students taking part in the program — they also learn to see how their culture and bilingualism can be an asset.

“You get to meet new people and you can socialize with people who understand you,” said Mount Vernon High School sophomore Guadalupe Rodriguez. “There’s a lot of people here that motivate you.”

It was a similar experience that helped lead recent Western graduate and mentor Cynthia Morales to college.

“It’s important for them to have someone who relates to them,” Morales said. “They feel more represented and it gives them a vision of themselves in the future.”

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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