Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

A handful of Baker students representing nearly every aspect of programs available to students in the 5J District met face-to-face on their home ground with state legislators Tuesday to share their educational stories.

Other students from throughout the region, including those from Pine-Eagle, Joseph, Nyssa, John Day, Prairie City and Burns, traveled to Baker City to meet with members of the Joint Committee on Student Success at the School District office.

Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, the committee’s co-chair with Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, explained that the Baker session was the second meeting for the 14 legislative leaders from both the House and Senate. (Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beverton, did not attend the Baker session).

The legislators’ first stop was in Eugene, and they traveled to Hermiston for more meetings today.

Roblan said the group will be traveling around the state during the next eight months to learn more about how to improve schools.

Student groups at each of the tables situated around the packed north conference room at the Baker School District Office Tuesday had the opportunity to meet with six different legislators, who rotated around the room in three half-hour sessions.

Roblan said the committee at first hadn’t considered including students in their meetings, but after the first session at Eugene they found that students provided some of the most important information of the day.

Gabriel Rosales, a Baker High School senior, was among students who met during the first round with Smith Warner and Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Milwaukie. Rosales told how his involvement in Baker’s FFA program had helped improve his confidence and public speaking skills and has set him on a path to college with a scholarship to pay his first year’s tuition and housing costs.

Rosales plans to attend Blue Mountain Community College at Pendleton for two years and then transfer to Oregon State University with the goal of becoming an ag teacher.

Kate Jesenko, a student at Eagle Cap Innovative High School, explained how she has been able to study at her own pace and excel, working toward earning her associate degree through BMCC while also completing requirements for her high school diploma.

“I enjoy the small size of Eagle Cap and the teachers care about each student,” said.

She plans to study psychology and Spanish in college and return to Baker City to live afterward, she said.

Dawson Vanderwiele told the legislators how growing up in her family’s Redi-Mix and excavating business has led to her employment with Baker Technical Institute where she and her dad, Casey Vanderwiele, teach classes for adults and high school students on simulator equipment. The simulators are part of BTI’s heavy equipment operator school.

Dawson plans to begin her studies at BMCC and then transfer to Eastern Oregon University to study business and education. Or she might head to Peoria, Illinois, where the Caterpillar Co. has its headquarters, she said.

Smith Warner asked the students how these programs serve students who struggle or those who don’t have a stable home life.

Senior Delaney Van Arsdall said programs aimed at engaging students such as FFA, FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), sports and National Honor Society help keep students connected. She plans to attend Oregon State University to study sociology and then possibly attend law school.

Gabriel pointed out that counselors are available for students who struggle with personal problems or drug and alcohol issues.

The students told the lawmakers that drugs are readily available to anyone who wants them despite law enforcement efforts.

Delaney explained how her father, Jef Van Arsdall, a lieutenant with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office, has taken a special interest in students at Huntington, one of just two Baker County communities where recreational marijuana is sold.

In discussing the role of hands-on instruction such as that provided at BTI, Smith Warner asked whether kids who might benefit most have been steered into those classes.

Gabriel assured the legislators that FFA is open to all and he said he has done his best to welcome those who are interested.

“It’s for everybody,” he said. “We will take in anybody. We respect everybody and we love everybody. You don’t have to come from an ag background.”

A second group of Baker students included two Baker Middle School eighth-graders, Katie Wilde and Jesse Maldonado, and two who attend Baker Web Academy, Kadee Hallett, a junior, and Katie Spaugh, who described herself as a sixth-grader who is working at the seventh-grade level.

They spoke with Sen. Roblan and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, about their experiences.

Kadee Hallett, who has attended the Web Academy since seventh grade, said she plans to enroll in Baker Early College next year to earn college credits before finishing her high school career. She and Katie Spaugh, who’s been enrolled at the Web Academy since first grade, both said studying at their own pace works well for them. The school provides computers and Chromebooks for them to use in their studies, they said.

See more in the April 25, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.