Summer school marathon allows Iraqi student to graduate

This is Part II of a five-part series on how donations to the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation are making a difference in students’ lives and how the Foundation has pivoted to address pandemic-related needs.

Summer school marathon allows Iraqi student to graduate

Summer school represents an opportunity for some students to catch up on a class or two and get back on track for graduation.

But for Noor Abdulqader, a Corvallis High School student from Iraq, the summer of 2020 became a race to graduate after the COVID-19 pandemic upended her life.

Noor Abdulqader

Noor’s father was sponsored by an Iraqi company to be a visiting scholar at Oregon State University. The family arrived in Corvallis in July 2019, intending to stay at least two years. But when financial difficulties caused by the pandemic beset the company, the family had to abruptly change its plans and prepare for a return to Iraq.

Noor wanted to graduate from Corvallis High School. The only catch: She would have to take five online classes during the summer to do that. She talked with teachers, who helped outline a plan.

Those plans hit a bump right away: As summer school started, she had to travel to Los Angeles to renew her passport at the Iraqi consulate. When she returned to Corvallis, “I started to work hard on my classes,” which included economics, U.S. government, journalism and two English classes.

Noor praised her teachers for keeping her focused during the summer, and singled out English teacher Bonnie Arning, who had a virtual English class with her every day.

Still, it was hard work: “It was hard to manage my time,” Noor said. “It was really hard for me to keep going. … I didn’t sleep a lot. But when I was working, I was happy.”

Now armed with a diploma from Corvallis High School, Noor hopes that she’ll be able to seek higher education in the United States. She’s eyeing a career as a doctor in Iraq: “Being a doctor is a big deal back in Iraq.”

And Noor already knows something about big deals – finishing five classes during a summer beset with uncertainty and a global pandemic certainly qualifies.

She said: “I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mr. Boring, Mr. Navarra, Ms. Keller, Ms. Kruger, Ms. Arning, Mr. Peak, Miz B, Mrs. Khalidah, Mrs. Mirvana, and all the teachers and staff of CHS and summer school. My family and I highly appreciate the great help, support, and patience of those great people. Also, I’m grateful to the people who donate to the summer school. Without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to graduate in 2020.”

Other students in summer school might not have faced the pressure that Noor did, but credit-recovery programs, funded in part by the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation, allowed them to get back on track to graduation.

Riki Hernandez

Riki Hernandez of Corvallis High School took a class this summer on global studies. He said he lost focus on his studies during the school year after the pandemic forced schools to pivot quickly toward distance learning. “It was hard transitioning from normal school to school in bed” or wherever, he said. A counselor, Elizabeth Garcia, connected with Riki and suggested that he take the summertime class.

The class, global studies, was “mostly stuff from around the world and geography, conflicts in the world,” Riki said, and it piqued his interest: “I really read a lot of articles. A lot of it was really interesting.” Riki also gave credit to a girlfriend who kept him focused on the class.

Now, Riki said, he’s focused on getting to college, where he hopes to study either English or architecture. And he said his summer experience should help him with the uncertainties of the 2020-21 school year: “I got my practice in, and I know my way around.”

Christian Mengler of Crescent Valley High School needed to catch up on a math class, and summer school offered an opportunity to do that.

Working with teacher Jefferson Peak, Christian was able to do just that – even though the two had to work through some bugs in the online program Christian was using: “I was getting weird, difficult questions that didn’t make sense. Something with the data got messed up.”

That forced Christian on some days to tackle multiple lessons, but he persevered: “I was able to catch up and get my grades to pass.”

Like other students, Christian found the transition to distance learning to be difficult: “It’s been a rough adjustment,” he said – and admitted that sometimes he got bored with the online format.

But he sees some advantages to distance learning over reporting to school every morning: “It helps not having to wake up at 6 a.m.”

Like Riki, Christian thinks his summertime work will come in handy during the 2020-21 school year. “It gave me a little realization of how stuff might be working,” Christian said.

And now that he’s back on track, he can focus more on his post-graduation plans: He wants to take some time off after high school and explore trade schools for training to become a carpenter or an electrician.

This story was written by Mike McInally, freelance writer and former editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times.