When the 150 students of migrant farmworker families attending a summer school program in Merced were asked recently how many of their parents had college degrees, only four raised their hands.
A cooperative program centered at the East Campus Educational Center strives to reverse that trend.
The Central Valley Opportunity Center, Merced County Office of Education migrant program and Merced Union High School District are continuing a 28-year partnership to bring those high school students' academic skills up to expectations and fire a desire within them to succeed in the future.
Luis Romero, a program specialist with the county schools office migrant program, said this week's college and careers fair in the East Campus cafeteria created some excitement among the students. "I think it's a great thing," Romero said. "Too often the migrants are a population of students that's forgotten. They should be given these kind of opportunities and be exposed to career options and find the kind of work they would like to do."
Too often migrant students' vision for the future is limited by the narrow confines of the home or community where they live, interrupted by the transitory nature of their parents' occupations. Career fairs get students thinking about getting their high school diploma and pursuing higher education, Romero said.
Jose Duran is principal of the full-day migrant summer school which began June 8 and winds up July 20; he also was a migrant student himself who went to Merced College and California State University, Chico. Students in the program live in Merced, Atwater, Winton, Livingston, Planada and Le Grand.
"I've walked in their shoes," Duran said. "Each year there's a different theme, and this year's is 'Creating a College-Bound Communuity.' It's successful; 28 years proves its value. Many programs come and go, but this one has stood the test of time."
Duran said freshmen through senior students will have to prepare five-minute presentations on the career fair and present them next week to their peers at an all-school assembly, similar to portfolio days held on high school campuses.
Edgar Avila, 16, of Planada will be a senior at Le Grand High School this fall. He's not sure what he wants to do in the future but hopes to go to a college or university. "I think they gave a lot of good information about colleges," Avila said. "There are a lot of opportunities here to make up credits."
Representatives of UC Merced, California State University, Fresno and Monterey campuses, Fresno City College, Golden Valley Health Center, the Merced Police Department, National Park Service and the California Mini-Corps passed out literature and promotional items to interested students.
Yamila Pena, 17, of Winton will be a senior this fall at Atwater High School. She's interested in law enforcement and wants to become a correctional officer.
Pena was checking out course offerings from the state university system but is most interested in attending UC Berkeley. She attended the summer migrant education program last year and said that's why she returned this summer.
Ruben Patron, director of the migrant education program offered in Merced, Madera and Stanislaus counties, said all the educators share a passion and enthusiasm for the program, showing the strength of this collaboration.
"This is a smaller learning community," Patron said. "We provide lots of motivation and encourage kids to complete their high school education and go on to post-secondary education. This is done in an environment that is very nurturing and gives a belief system that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to."
Gesha Uminskiy, a National Park Service ranger and UC Merced senior majoring in environmental engineering, said migrant students were surprised by some of the opportunities available for working with the park service. "It was definitely an eye-opener for a lot of people," Uminskiy said.
Allison Dossetti, a school counselor with the CVOC migrant summer school, called the career fair an eye-opening experience for her students. "It's exciting to see high school students interested in their futures," Dossetti said. "For lots of these students, they don't talk to a lot of people who know the process of what they need to do."
Duran said students receive core instruction in English and math, along with independent studies in social science, computer applications, science and biology.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at
(209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.