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Migrant ed in Solano — program focuses on math fluency, reading, robotics

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Migrant ed in Solano — program focuses on math fluency, reading, robotics

Picture of Richard Bammer

This story is the first in a several-part series about academic and health outcomes for students enrolled in state Migrant Education programs in eastern Solano County, a project funded in part by the Center for Health Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. 2016 California Fellow Richard Bammer is a reporter at The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif.

Other stories in the series include:

Migrant children see themselves in California Mini-Corps teachers

Migrant ed in Solano — In Dixon Unified, a harvest of hope: Educators seek sense of ‘continuity,’ minimize problems for 350 mostly Hispanic transient kids

Bridging ‘opportunity gap,’ migrant ed students go to STEM camp

News Bank
Friday, July 1, 2016

Teacher Stacey Sargent busied her dozen or so students, most of them seventh- and eighth-graders, with a reading, listening, art and imagination exercise in Room 29 at Markham Elementary, home to Vacaville Unified’s summer Migrant Education program. 

One student, such as Monica Alvarez, an incoming ninth-grader at Vacaville High, would read a description of a deep-sea creature, then her classmates, using pencils, drew what they saw in their mind’s eye on a piece of paper. 

Earlier in the morning, Sargent, 32, and an English teacher at Vaca Pena Middle School during the regular school year, reviewed similes and metaphors. Also in the early morning, she escorted the children to another aging portable classroom, where they worked on their robotics projects, part of the district’s summer-only Migrant Ed program, as it’s called for short by educators. 

Migrant Education is federally funded and responds to the educational and health needs of America’s migrant children, nearly all of them poor, Hispanic and English language learners, with programs typically running from April through October in predominantly rural areas. For the 2015-16 year, the California Department of Education set aside nearly $119 million for migrant education, more than it allotted in 2013-14, but less than in 2012-13. Vacaville Unified is part of Region 2 in the CDE’s Migrant Education program. Overseen by the Butte County Office of Education, it stretches north to the Oregon border. 

The four-week session ends today at the Markham Avenue campus, but the needs of the district’s migrant students, TK-12, are ongoing, said Manolo Garcia, Markham’s principal and this year director of the district’s Migrant Education program. 

Soon to be the district’s Independent Study director, he confirmed federal and state data showing that migrant children — classified as such depending on the number of times they move with their families, for whatever reason — have some of the highest dropout rates in the nation, at about 50 percent on average. 

In Vacaville Unified, migrant students are identified in two ways primarily: 1) The parents, who may or may not be U.S. citizens, are tied to agricultural work, move with the crops, or move a certain number of times within a school year within the district; and 2) The moves last for at least three straight years. 

Vacaville’s summertime program this year served 85 children, with most of the high school students in classes to recover credits in order to graduate in June, noted Garcia. In the early grades, TK-5, the emphasis is on reading and math fluency; in grades 6-8 on math and writing fluency. Most of the migrant students attend Markham during the regular school year, Garcia pointed out. 

District educators have long noted that students who are not fluent in English by third grade are the most likely to drop out later. Additionally, federal and state governments have a stake in boosting standardized test scores among migrant students. School districts or schools that are, under federal law, deemed Title 1, such as Markham, meaning more than 55 percent of students are English-language learners, low-income or foster youth, must make what is called “adequate yearly progress” in successive years. Otherwise, a district or school may be subject to some sort of additional scrutiny from the CDE, even as California school districts transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015. It gives states more authority on standards, testing, accountability, supports and interventions. 

Meanwhile, in her class, her second Migrant Education class in as many years, Sargent said most of her students were born in Mexico and most are conversationally fluent in English. 

She returned to the program this summer, in part, because it gives her a chance to be “somewhat creative” as a teacher, she said. 

“Generally, we’ve had pretty good kids,” said Sargent, adding, “They have to be motivated,” and attendance is by choice for the district’s 102 migrant students. 

Although Markham is widely known for its popular and widely regarded dual-immersion language program, the focus of the summertime Migrant Education session, it appeared, was to have student speak primarily English in the classrooms. 

While the program’s emphasis is on academic subjects, noted Sargent, occasionally the students may want to discuss something topical, such as GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s 2015 statements about Mexican immigrants and building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border to stop the influx of illegal migrants. 

“They broached the subject,” she said. “They were engaged.” 

In a brief interview before class ended, Alvarez, 13, said she was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and came to the United States when she was 8. She first lived in Vallejo, and her mother works as an in-home care provider. 

In her third year in the program, Alvarez, who graduated from Willis Jepson Middle School with a 4.0 GPA, said, “It has helped me through enrichment (activities). You don’t forget what you learn.” 

To others like her who may want to enroll in Migrant Education, she said, “If you have a chance to get into this, it will be the best thing.” 

Classmate Roberto Cervantes, 15, also an incoming freshman at Vacaville High, was born in Sacramento and also graduated from Jepson this year, with a 2.0 GPA. 

One of four children, the son of a mechanic and a cook, the summer session is his fourth Migrant Ed program at Markham. 

“It helps you with your English,” said Roberto. “It helps you figure out if you need help in math. It helps you in talking to other people.” 

He admitted that his report cards in previous years were that of a below-average student, but the Migrant Ed program “helped me bring up my grades.” 

Over his shoulder, on a white board, Sargent wrote, in black ink, her “class norms”: Be prompt, Be productive, Be prepared, and Be polite. 

Robotics is a part of every day’s instruction during the district’s Migrant Ed summer session at Markham. 

Students learn to code, write programs, create video story boards, use a “green screen,” allowing students to place a video clip or still image onto another surface, and get practical experience using video editing software. They are required to submit a culminating project by the end of the summer session. 

In another aging portable not far from Sargent’s classroom, teachers Roxann Burns, a teacher in the Spanish Peer Immersion & Cultural Education (SPICE) program at Markham, and Chris Wagner, a Spanish teacher at Wood High, supervised the summertime Migrant Ed robotics classes. 

Eighth-grader Jesus Gutierrez, 12, showed off his link-bot, a softball-sized robot, in this case, linked to another ’bot. Using the green screen, he had placed an image of the Eiffel Tower in the background as the two ’bots, wiggling slightly on the screen, bumped into one another, a 60-second video Gutierrez dubbed “linkbot love.” 

“They don’t love each other,” he said, smiling. “They get to know each other.” 

It is a video that will be, among others in the session’s robotics classes, posted to YouTube, as a sort of mini-film festival, noted Wagner. 

Alvarez and two classmates from Sargent’s class, Jennie Huerta and Mariana Ortiz, both 13, created a simple soap opera-like storyline, with a villain, hero and a girl in distress. 

Alvarez recounted specific steps taken to complete their 37-second video: write a plot; create costumes; program the ’bot; use the green screen; record the video; edit the video; create a voice over. 

Across the room, Israel Morando, 16, an incoming sophomore at Will C. Wood High, and Luis Casas, 17, an incoming senior at Wood, crafted a humorous 55-second video, called “Bob (Marley), Cheech and Chong,” with images from the film “Up in Smoke” and Marley’s reggae hits “Buffalo Soldier” and “3 Little Birds” and WAR’s “Low Rider.” 

To Casas, creating the video was a learning process, but it was the learning-by-doing lessons that ultimately will stick in memory — “That’s how we learn,” he said, echoing the philosophy of the Next Generation Science Standards in California, adopted in 2013. 

Nearby, Jesse Diego, 13, created “Revenge of Linkvader,” with imagery from George Lucas’ “Star Wars” films. 

“I learned that programming can be difficult,” he said. “In the end, what happens in the end, is worth it.” 

Garcia called it “project-based” or “problem-based” learning, as way to “gauge their learning in nontraditional ways.” 

In Room 44, teacher Jose Bermudez, the son of a migrant worker, was amid a lesson in English idioms, or figures of speech, with 25 Migrant Ed students doing their best to follow along and understand. 

Idioms, he wrote on a white board “are a combination of words that have a different meaning than what they are saying,” such as “a piece of cake,” meaning something is easy. 

During the regular year a teacher at Markham, Bermudez, 32 and a graduate of UC Davis, speaking to the students in English and Spanish, asked, “What do we use idioms?” To make language “more colorful ... more enticing,” he said. 

“Write five idioms,” he instructed his students, adding, “Don’t go to Google and ask Google what the expression means. I want you to figure it out for yourselves.” 

Bermudez, born in Jesus Maria, Mexico, in Jalisco State, was raised in Winters and graduated from Winters High. 

To him, the greatest change in his more than 10 years of teaching has been the use of rapidly changing technology. 

Helping him in the classroom was Abilene Martinez, 25, who is about the begin the teacher credential program at Sacramento State University. 

She is a member of the California Mini-Corps, a CDE program that places college students as tutors in Migrant Education programs across the state, to give children the academic and social confidence they need to succeed and stay in school. 

“I love the program,” said Martinez, whose mother, Enedina, currently works as a farm laborer. “It’s helping a lot. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I never thought I’d graduate (from college), but I’ve worked hard to reach that goal.” 

Born and raised in Mexico City, she came to America at age 12, and eventually attended public schools in Yuba City. She is not new to the Mini-Corps, saying her work with migrant students is important, agreeing with Bermudez, that the children learn from adults who grew up just like them and that they serve as a successful role models. 

“I want their minds to grow, and grow positive character traits,” Martinez said of her students. “I want them to see an example in me.” 

What is Migrant Education? 

A federally funding program, Migrant Education responds to the educational and health needs of migrant children, nearly all of them poor and English language learners in classes that run from April through October. They are prone to dropping out, with many of them living in areas with high pollution and asthma rates, such as California’s Central and Imperial valleys — when they are not living in another state, Mexico, or elsewhere in Central America. 

A law first passed in 1965, when Lyndon Johnson was president (and later upheld by the Supreme Court), the program is in addition to the supplemental services the students already receive through school districts, many of them serving rural areas, locally such as Dixon, Winters, Davis, the Capay Valley and sections of Vacaville. 

The federal government gives Migrant Education dollars to state departments of education, based on each state’s per-pupil expenses, for all migrant students up to age 21. The money pays for teaching, including remedial instruction, career education services, preschool services, special guidance, counseling and testing services. The federal dollars also pay for free, nutritious breakfasts and lunches. 

The program’s goal is to make sure all migrant students reach the same standards as traditional students, graduate with a high school diploma (or complete a GED). 

California has an estimated 200,000 migrant students, nearly one-third of the nation’s total. They are the sons and daughters of migrant farmworkers, men and women, who, for generally minimum wages, till, plant and tend the Golden State’s vast agricultural lands, then harvest its crops — tomatoes, olives, corn, citrus, nuts, grapes, sunflowers, including dozens of other crops that must be picked by hand — or work California’s mammoth cattle, dairy, pig and poultry ranches.

[This story was originally published by News Bank.]

Photo by Jay Cross via Flickr