Migrant students facing English hurdle

Migrant-worker families who come from Mexico seeking farming jobs and better lives often struggle to settle down in California — and their children struggle to get an education while constantly moving from place to place.

Of the Sequoia High School District’s population of 8,190 students, roughly 410 qualify as migrant students, meaning their parents have been employed as farmworkers in the United States or Mexico in the past three years, said Suana Gilman-Ponce, director of English Learner instruction for the district.

While many English Learner students struggle to gain fluency, students of migrant families often come in with little or no education at all, posing greater challenges for students and their teachers.

Migrant parents are often busy working — and lack the fluency to be involved in their kids’ education. In response, the district is recruiting for a new position — an ombudsman who would act as a liaison between the district and migrant-farmworker families whose students are enrolled in its schools.

“Sometimes we believe our parents don’t care, or we just don’t see them often — but when we offer workshops they are eager to get information [about their children’s education],” said Patricia Cocconi, director of the district’s adult school.

The Medina family, which came to the Peninsula from rural Michoacan in Mexico, has benefited from Sequoia’s migrant-student programs, which are supported by roughly $290,000 in federal funds each year, Gilman-Ponce said.

While the youngest child, Michael Medina, recently earned his diploma from Menlo-Atherton, his mother, Patricia, is working toward her GED — and Michael’s grandmother, Zenaida, is learning to read.

“When I think of it, I get goosebumps,” said Dante Medina, Michael’s uncle. “I think it’s never too late for anything.”

Despite some success stories, the majority of migrant students struggle. In 2005-06, 56 percent of migrant students scored below basic or far below basic on California standardized tests on the English portion of the exam, while 60 percent scored at the same levels in mathematics, Gilman-Ponce said.

Getting parents involved has proven the key to student success. “The district has a commitment to providing these parents with education, a point of contact, a person they can go to with questions,” Gilman-Ponce said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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