When Juliana Quintanilla
moved from Mexico to McAllen three years ago, learning English
was just one of the challenges she
would tackle head on. Quintanilla had been migrating with her family
to California each year of her life, and from the age of 12 she
had been working with them in the fields, picking apricots and
grapes. Now a senior at James “Nikki” Rowe High School,
Quintanilla is in the top 10 percent of her class. She has already
received 22 hours of college credit and a slew of academic awards.
This spring she will be the first in her family to graduate from
high school and go to college.
of the Year Juliana Quintanilla celebrates with her mother
Quintanilla was named one of two
Students of the Year by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement
Program at The University of Texas
at Austin on March 29.
The other Student of the Year, Antonio Manriquez,
is a junior at Midland High School in Midland, where he has a grade-point
of 3.72. He takes honors science and math courses, is learning
French as a third language and grooms the horses at his family’s
rental stables every day before and after school. He has migrated
with his family most of his life and recently migrated alone to
Gulfport, Miss., where he cleaned shrimp.
Each year the Migrant
Student Program names two Students of the Year as well as other
exemplary students from the more than
1,000 who take courses through the program to earn credit toward
their high school diplomas. Students are nominated by counselors
and migrant educators in their schools and selected by a committee
of former migrant students who are now in college. An annual recognition
ceremony honors the students who despite the obstacles presented
by their migratory lifestyle have triumphed academically and personally.
It also marks the impact the program has on students across the
state, enabling them to achieve on par with students who don’t
have to migrate for work.
“The Graduation Enhancement Program has given me more than
Manriquez when accepting his award. “It has given me a whole
new way to think about my life.”
Living as a migrant worker
may be hard to imagine for the student who attends the same school
year after year and returns to the
same home day after day. But it is a reality for more than 138,000
Texas students. Texas has the second largest migrant population
in the country behind California and the largest population to
migrate between states.
Migrant students in Texas generally leave
their homes in late spring and migrate across Texas and to 47 other
states. They may pick
oranges in Florida or blueberries in Michigan. They may paint fences
in west Texas or can tomatoes in Indiana. They return to their
schools in early fall and wait for the next cycle to begin. In
addition to the hard work and long hours they work to help support
their families, they face added stresses as a student.
“As a migrant student, you go on in life not the way that
other students do,” said Mariana Ontiveros, a 2003 Student
of the Year who is now a student at The University of Texas—Pan
American. “You have to be able to handle school, be able
to handle moving and everything else. Trying to keep up with the
rest of the kids is very difficult.”
of the Year Antonio Manriquez, with his mother Maria Manriquez,
said, “Living in a migrant family has shown me some
of the most important values in my life.”
In addition, because
the students may spend part of the school year out of state, they
are often not able to take or complete
courses required for graduation in Texas. They face interrupted
coursework and missing credits.
“Continuity of education has been a big issue for migrant
students from the beginning,” said Peggy Wimberley, Migrant
Student Program coordinator and one of the program’s founders. “Students
get instruction in Texas and then they move to another state and
get instruction that meets that state’s requirements.”
Migrant Student Program allows students to continue their coursework
toward a Texas high school diploma even as they migrate. They can
take their classes anytime in any place. This may mean they take
them from home, from out of state or through summer programs for
migrants. They may take classes that are Web-based, paper-based
or earn credit by exam. Many classes are available on CD-ROM, and
a gift from the Microsoft Corporation has enabled the program to
purchase laptop computers for the students to use to complete classes.
flexibility is key to the program’s success. Students
can use it to meet their individual needs, whether it means finishing
a required class they weren’t able to complete when they
left in the spring or taking extra classes to allow for more time
for extracurricular activities. The students are provided with
a network of support, with secondary counseling and on-site grading
as well as instruction and grading through telephone, computer
The Migrant Student Program provides tools, services
and courses to help students achieve and maintain scholastic levels
to those of their classmates who remain in school throughout the
year. A program of the Division of Continuing and Extended Education,
it has enrolled nearly 15,000 students since it originated in 1987.
Many of the students are the first in their families to graduate
from high school, and many go on to college.
One who has is Lupita
Hernandez, an exemplary student in 2000 from Donna, Texas, who
is an office assistant in the Migrant Student
Program office and a third-year student at St. Edward’s University.
For 12 years while growing up, she and her family migrated to Michigan
to pick tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers. Her father still migrates
Yolanda Gonzalez has worked with previous Students of the
Year Eduardo Olvera and Mariana Ontiveros from McAllen Memorial
High School, as well as with Juliana Quintanilla.
“I tell my little brother our parents gave us the experience
of migrating so that we would know how hard it is to work out there,” Hernandez
said. “They don’t want us to live this life. They want
us to get our degree and succeed.”
Migrating made it hard
for Hernandez, already a strong student, to keep up with her studies
and be involved with the extracurricular
activities that would make her a well-rounded student. She used
the courses to free up time to work a few jobs and train and work
as a volunteer firefighter.
“Our experiences as migrants are very limited,” she
live in camps and only see diversity if we go to school.”
who is majoring in communications, said the program allowed her
to expand her opportunities and break the cycle of
working in the fields. She hopes to continue working with migrant
student education when she finishes her degree.
as exemplary students complete an application and write an essay
about their experiences as migrants and their
academic and personal goals. They are evaluated on the basis of
obstacles overcome, academic achievements, participation and leadership
in extracurricular activities and performance in Migrant Student
Program courses. As the students are recognized during the ceremony,
often with their parents and teachers by their side, it is clear
that these motivated students are making a difference not only
for their families, but in their schools as well. They run track,
sing in the choir, tutor their peers and edit literary magazines.
year’s Students of the Year were awarded $4,000 scholarships funded
Corporation and Elva Treviño Hart, a former migrant
herself and author of the book “Barefoot Heart: Stories of
a Migrant Child.”
The scholarship checks were handed
out by State Rep. Aaron Peña from Edinburg. The challenges
of the migrant student
are particularly real for Peña, whose father and grandfather were
both migrant workers.
“Let me say that you are fulfilling the prayers of your
grandparents and of your parents and for those educators that are
told the students. “Each of us believes if you study, if
you work hard, if you persevere, you will succeed. You students
are a living example of that belief.”
The Migrant Student
Program’s innovative curriculum is just
one way of helping the students succeed. Whether they take English
3, Government-on-a-Disk, Economics or Algebra Across the Wire,
they are taking one more step toward completing their education.
But the university only offers the classes. The students themselves
add the impressive motivation that will enable them to create better
“It’s striking to think that when these students migrate to
other states, they usually have to work very long hours in the
field every day. They may start at 5 a.m. and not finish until
6 p.m. and then those students go to school to get the credits
they need to graduate,” Wimberley said. “The remarkable
thing is that students are willing to put out so much effort to
succeed and get an education.”