Several hundred teenagers filed into a swanky event center in the Imperial Valley town of Heber on a recent Friday morning. These high schoolers, nearly all of them Latino, are here for a college prep seminar. Some of their parents have probably worked in the hay fields that surround the place. The message for these kids: go to college.
Jaime Carias is a recruiter for the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP. CAMP is a federally funded program that gives students from migrant families intensive support to help them get through their first year of college. Carias knows how hard that is.
He’s the first in his family to graduate from high school. He’s also the first in his family to get a college degree, and the first to have a career, not just a job.
Many students here will boast such firsts. And some will thank the federal Migrant Education Program for helping them succeed.
Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 documentary Harvest of Shame shed light on the dismal lives of American farm workers and the educational hurdles faced by their children.
The documentary helped spur the passage of federal legislation to improve opportunities for migrant students.
Today, the Migrant Education Program serves about 345 thousand students aged three to 21 across the country. California has by far the biggest program, serving some 80 thousand migrant students. That includes tutoring and help making up coursework and credits they might miss because their families move around during the school year.
That’s the case for Analee Cine, a junior at Holtville High School.
“You start the year and they teach you something and then when you move, they teach you something completely different,” says Cine.
Up until recently, she would start each school year in Hollister, some eight hours north, and end it in the Imperial Valley. Cine’s mother is a farm worker, but Analee’s path is shaping up to be a much different one.
“I was planning on going to UC Santa Cruz and becoming a marine biologist,” she says. “I think I will get there because, I don’t know, I’m really determined.”
Cine’s two older sisters are already working on degrees — one at UC Irvine and the other at a community college.
Diego Lopez says migrant parents seem to increasingly prioritize education for their children. Lopez is the principal of Frank Wright Middle School in Imperial.
“In the past, for economic reasons, parents would take the kids with them. And in many cases, they were also part of the labor force,” says Lopez.
Now, he says, parents are more likely to make arrangements so that their kids can stay in the same school throughout the year while parents follow the crops.
“And so a lot of these kids stay with relatives, an aunt, a grandmother, a neighbor. That, in itself, is a hardship,” he says.
Academically, at least, those tough decisions may be paying off. According to data from the California Department of Education, migrant students in the Imperial Valley graduate at slightly higher rates than the student population as a whole. And fewer of them drop out of school.
Statewide, on the other hand, migrant students still graduate at a lower rate than the general population.
All of this data, however, isn’t entirely reliable, according to the state’s official watchdog. In a recent report, the California state auditor’s office criticized the state Department of Education for failing to evaluate the effectiveness of its migrant program.
A spokesman for the education department said an evaluation was being finalized.
Back at the college prep seminar in Heber, many migrant students said they were grateful for the extra boost they were getting from the migrant education program.
Julie Mosqueda is a senior at Central Union High School in El Centro.
“Oh, it has been awesome because they call you in, they look over your grades to tell you like, ok, you can fix this, go to tutoring. And they have helped me a lot with my college applications, they have my transcript all ready, they’re ready for me to go in and apply,” she says.
Mosqueda says she’s applying to three state universities and wants to study kinesiology. Her parents?
“I don’t think they even made it to high school.”
Mosqueda says her parents motivate her to seek out and face her challenges in the classroom.