Phil Ortega's efforts instill student pride

Cleaning vinyl fences was tedious work.

Cleaning vinyl fences was tedious work.

The title Phil Ortega has as Attendance Coordinator  with School  District 9 hardly describes his position. But, we doubt there is a title that suits him unless it was “director of  all good things for kids, community and schools.”

Ortega is the district’s wonder man-you keep wondering how he can do all that he does.
Ortega started with District 9 on a part-time basis through Southern Oregon Education Service District whereby he worked for several area school districts helping them get a handle on attendance. After the first year in District 9, it was evident he was needed full-time and he liked the fit with the district, so he became the full-time Attendance Coordinator. He worked closely with the district’s  Connection school helping them by making home visits, among other things.
He decreased dropouts and improved attendance by working not only with the students but with their families.

But it is this year’s summer program that caught our attention. Ortega had a group of eight students that literally went from one end of School District 9 to the other making the district a cleaner, more attractive place to live. Much of their time was spent taking graffiti off fences and garage doors. They had one job in White City where graffiti covered a white vinyl fence. You can’t paint vinyl so they spent a total of 60 hours scrubbing that fence clean. That was the day Supt. Cynda Ricket showed up with root beer floats for everyone and then pitched in for a time and quickly learned scrubbing the vinyl was not easy.

One weekend the sheriff’s department called Ortega and said they had 50 places that had graffiti. The kids took care of it. White City was not the only place they went. They did work at the county’s park in Shady Cove and in the state’s park in Trail.

Cleaning off graffiti is not all these industrious young men have been doing. Most recently, they have been helping Ortega place bilingual signs in each school. When the job is complete, they will have placed 160 signs.

As incentive for the community outreach program, Rickert arranged for each participant to receive $200 for 28 hours of community service. But this wasn’t money just handed to them. It was to be used for school clothes.  J.C. Penney’s was another contributor to the program and gave them a discount on their purchases, which gave them $240 worth of clothing for their $200.  But again, they couldn’t just walk into Penney’s and spend all their money or one or two items. They were allowed to spent 25 percent on shoes, and then were to consider their other needs for school. J C Penney’s helped them calculate how much they could spend as they gave them a math lesson right in the shoe department, said Ortega. He said if they managed their money well, they even had an extra $25 to spend. Two adults went with the boys through the store helping them select their clothing needs.

Ortega said not one fence cleaned this summer has been repainted. When asked why they thought that was, Louis Rodriguez said he thought the younger kids looked up to them and saw the example they were setting. Rodriguez and Ernesto Valle are both members of the EPHS freshman football team. Rodriguez is a defensive back while Valle is a defensive tackle.

School District 9 not only gave money to the project, the maintenance department supplied paint, masks, and whatever safety gear they needed.  Agencies and individuals that participated in the program included: Supt. Cynda Rickert, School Improvement Director Tina Mondale, Shelly Ward, administrative support, Ken Grunwal and the maintenance department staff, D9 business office, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, JC Penny, Jackson County Parks, Ila Reimer, family support specialist for District 9 and Elizabeth Rodriguez, White Mountain Middle School.

Next year the Hispanic Interagency Commission will be the sponsor. They will provide the financial incentive.

Ortega is hoping perhaps one of the district’s small buses could be used next summer, which would mean more students could participate in the program.

“There’s nothing else to do in the summer. This was fun,” said Orlando Delacry, an 8th grader at White Mountain Middle School.
By Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent

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