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Teachers from Mexico join Merced summer school program, focus on culture

Dancers perform in the Yosemite High School gymnasium in Merced on Wednesday. Students who took part in the Central Valley Opportunity Center summer school program, performed for family and friends after working with teachers from Michoacan, Mexico, for the past six weeks.
Dancers perform in the Yosemite High School gymnasium in Merced on Wednesday. Students who took part in the Central Valley Opportunity Center summer school program, performed for family and friends after working with teachers from Michoacan, Mexico, for the past six weeks. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

Migrant students who participated in the Central Valley Opportunity Center summer school program this year got a rare opportunity to work with teachers who hailed from the same place as their families.

Teachers Fredy Tinoco and Gerardo Camacho Lopez spent six weeks in Merced working with students in math, English, art, leadership and more. Both men are teachers in Michoacan, Mexico. Their time teaching in Merced culminated Wednesday in a cultural dance and theater performance.

“I’m very happy to be here,” Tinoco said. “The students have passed on their energy to me.”

The summer sessions are geared toward migrant students and are a collaborative effort among the Merced County Office of Education, Merced Union High School District and COVC.

Students from all Merced-area high schools, including Le Grand, attend to recover or get ahead on credits to earn a high school diploma. They also get to join in extracurricular activities they might miss during the regular school year, said Jose Duran, the program’s principal of six years.

Many of the students have ties to Michoacan, and having the two Michoacano teachers to learn from this summer was invaluable, said Moises Gutierrez, who co-taught with Tinoco.

During the performance Wednesday, Tinoco said he was excited to see the integration between American and Mexican cultures. During the time he spent with students, he encouraged them to be proud of their heritage.

“Migrant students are constantly changing residency because their parents are field workers,” he said. “Their culture is part of their identity, and it’s important to value and preserve it.”

The performances at the East Campus Educational Center in Merced focused on culture. Students sang songs in Spanish, and performed skits and folkloric dances.

Viviana Villalobos, a 16-year-old who attends El Capitan High School, was part of a group that performed a dance that mixed hip hop and cumbia. She said she loved the summer program and working with the Michoacano teachers.

“They were helpful to us and taught us not to forget about our culture,” she said.

Remedios Lopez said she liked the fun learning environment and closeness of the students in CVOC.

“We still get to enjoy our summer while having an education,” she said. “I prefer CVOC over regular school. Here, it’s like a family. We bond with each other.”

The CVOC summer program was founded more than 30 years ago by Joan Faul, the former mayor of Atwater. She was in the audience Wednesday watching the performances.

“I formed the program to help migrant students be successful in high school and get a diploma,” she said. “Every one of the students here are on track for graduation, and that’s our goal. It’s just wonderful.”

Duran said that over the years the program has grown and become more vigorous to keep up with curriculum standards. But, he said, the extracurricular activities and focus on culture still play a vital role in what makes the program fun for migrant students.

“This is their moment to shine,” he said.

Brianna Vaccari, 209-385-2477

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