Migrating students succeed in school thanks to local program

Exclusive Migrant program helps students get to graduation

YUMA, Ariz. - Yuma, Ariz. and Salinas, Calif. are two cities in the western United States that share a bond of producing lettuce for the entire country. 

Twice a year, day laborers transition between the cities to help harvest food for the country.

In most cases, their families also migrate with them. According to the Arizona Department of Education, there are over 10,000 children of migratory workers with educational needs.

One local school program helps them achieve academic success and makes sure these adjusting agriculture students aren't falling behind. 

The transition happens every October or November with students coming to Yuma county schools in the middle of the semester. 

”They are mobile so they basically travel with their families and they come in the middle of the school year because of the work their parents do,” said Maria Sarabia, migrant advisor at Kofa High School. 

You can find the migrant program at every high school in Yuma County. 

"Right now, we have, it’s an attentive count because our count changes pretty often. We’re at approximately 2,700 students," Juan Castillo, Migrant Program Coordinator, said.

Breaking that down:

- San Luis High School has the highest number of migrant students, with 1,200 students coming mid-year every year. There are three migrant advisors for that student population.

- Kofa High School is home to 500 migrant students with two advisors.

- Cibola, Yuma, and Gila Ridge each have 250 migrant students with one advisor. 

- There is one advisor stationed at Vista Alternative High School.

Overseeing all those students is Juan Castillo, who is in his first year on the job.

“I kinda just ensure, uh, we get our recruitment numbers are high, that our advisors are making sure they’re monitoring the academic progress of our students, just making sure our migrant students are on track to graduate high school,” Castillo added.

The migrant program works to bridge the gap between migrant and non-migrant students. It's also available in the Imperial Valley.

Currently, Imperial Valley enrolls approximately 7,754 migrant students served by 13 school districts in the county, according to the Imperial Valley Office of Education. 

It's particularly helpful for Aileene Herrera, a senior at Kofa, who has been migrating back and forth since she was in second grade. She said the constant transition has proved to be difficult at times.

“Definitely the curriculum because it, like, varies between each state so I would say the curriculum or like, the way that they, like, grade things I guess because over there they could be more, like, harsher when it comes to how they grade,” Herrera said. 

Krystal Sanchez, a Kofa freshman, is technically a migrant student, but she stays in Yuma the whole school year. She's a straight-A student but knows the office is there to always help.

“I would get bad grades and then like, Mr. Castillo would keep on me and tell me oh this, and they would call my mom if I have any bad grades or if I’m failing a class or have any missing assignments,” Sanchez said. 

A major part of the program is making sure the parents are always informed. Krystal's mom, Carla, said the program has immensely helped all her children in school.

"I mean the migrant program has helped a lot because they keep me on track of their grades, their attendance if anything is happening with them if they’re failing a class, and they do a home visit, they let us know,” she added. 

Maria Sarabia is in her first year as a migrant advisor at Kofa High School and works alongside these students. 

“I work with students one-on-one, just basically monitoring their grades, attendance, participation in the schools…and more than anything, being there to motivate them,” she added. 

She said there are some challenges with the migrant students.

“Yes, there is a language barrier," Sarabia added.

Having an advisor is extremely helpful.

“They help me find scholarships… find the time for me, to talk to me, they’re my best friends because I could talk to them about anything,” said Sanchez. 

Castillo thinks a lot of these students would fall through the cracks if the program didn't exist. He knows what resources to offer, having been a migrant student himself.

“I know exactly what it takes, I know how hard it is to travel from Salinas and back, back and forth. It builds perseverance, it actually made me aware and goal-oriented, so I can relate to the students, I want them to see if I can do it, you can also do it too," he said.

The migrant program seems to be working. Castillo said 90 percent of migrant students within the Yuma Union High School District have gone on to graduate.

The plus side, this program has no extra cost to taxpayers. In fact, services provided for migrant students by migrant staff members cost the district nothing. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Castillo said if you work in agriculture, contact the school district to see if you qualify for the program. 

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