April 01, 2002 2 min read

Great Expectations

This ESL teacher wants her middle schoolers to aspire to higher ed.

Her middle school students might be a bit young for fraternity parties and coed dorms, but educator Xochitl (pronounced SO-sheel) Fuhriman-Ebert doesn’t think it’s too early for them to start thinking about college. “I’d start them in kindergarten if I could,” she says.

Each year, Fuhriman-Ebert, an Oregon ESL teacher recently turned administrator, and her colleagues at Ontario Middle School take their 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students on field trips to campuses such as Albertson College and Treasure Valley Community College. There, they take tours, sit in on classes, taste dining-hall food, and quiz panels of undergrads about college life. When the students return to their own classrooms, they write essays about their adventures in higher education.

It’s part of the College Awareness Program Fuhriman-Ebert created in 1995, her first year of teaching. She recalls being shocked when one of her ESL kids asked: “Miss, what the hell is college? Where is it?” Within a week, she had whisked her students to nearby Boise State University to show them.

Ontario Middle School is located in a small town in Oregon’s poorest county, Malheur, and nearly 60 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced- price lunches. More than three-fourths of the students in Fuhriman-Ebert’s first classroom were Hispanic—many of them children of migrant farm workers—and the Latino population is rising. She worries that far too few English language learners aspire to college. “For [other students], it’s a birthright,” she says. “I want to show them all, this is something you can have.”

Leticia Guardado, an 8th grader at Ontario Middle School, has gone on the college field trip two years in a row. She talks enthusiastically about the spacious dorm rooms she saw at Boise State and how she hopes to go to college one day. “I want to be a lawyer, so I can make some money,” she says.

Fuhriman-Ebert grew up as a native Spanish speaker in Idaho. She distinctly remembers that her own high school career counselor never mentioned the possibility of college to her, suggesting instead that she look into ROTC programs. Having thrived as a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi nonetheless, Fuhriman-Ebert is determined that her ESL kids won’t experience the same frustration. For these students, she says, “We need to make college an expectation.”

—By Rose Gordon