Irene Castillo of Olton, Texas, and Alexis Fernandez of McAllen, Texas, named Migrant Students of the Year at The University of Texas at Austin

March 27, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas—High school students Irene Castillo of Olton, Texas, and Alexis Fernandez of McAllen, Texas, were named Students of the Year on Monday, March 27, by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin.

Both students will receive a $2,000 college scholarship funded by a gift from the ExxonMobil Foundation. The students were selected on the basis of obstacles overcome, overall academic achievements, participation and leadership in extracurricular activities and their performance in distance learning courses in the university’s Migrant Student Program.

Irene Castillo with her mother, Cipriana Castillo, at the Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony
Irene Castillo with her mother, Cipriana Castillo, at the Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony.

Castillo and Fernandez were among 38 migrant students who were honored at the Frank C. Erwin Center for their exemplary achievements during the university’s annual Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony, which was attended by 350 guests, including migrant students from 31 high schools and 22 Texas school districts. More than 1,000 Texas migrant students are completing their high school graduation requirements this year through the program, which is administered by the K-16 Education Center within the university’s Division of Continuing Education.

Castillo, a junior at Olton High School, lives with her parents, Felix and Cipriana Castillo, along with her three brothers and her two sisters. She migrates with her family an average of five times annually, necessitating enrollment in multiple schools throughout each school year. Nevertheless, Castillo will graduate on time with her class in May 2007.

Castillo was the only person awake when her family’s home was destroyed by fire this year. After evacuating family members, who were sleeping at the time of the fire, Castillo then immediately called her school counselor.

“She really impressed me at how clear-minded she was,” said Ester Seawright, Castillo’s counselor at Olton High School. “She asked me, within minutes, to please order her replacement books and curriculum for her distance learning course. She knew what she had to do and was willing to do it.”

Fernandez, the son of Adolio and Alba Fernandez, is a senior at James “Nikki” Rowe High School in McAllen. Despite attending eight high schools in three states in order to migrate with his family, Fernandez will graduate in the top three percent of his class. He is active in sports and extracurricular activities and volunteers as a tutor in the migrant student lab at his high school. He plans to attend college to study mechanical engineering.

Alexis Fernandez with his mother, Alba Fernandez, and his sister, Alba Fernandez, at the Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony
Alexis Fernandez with his mother, Alba Fernandez, (center) and his sister, Alba Fernandez, at the Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony.

“We come together to salute this very special group of migrant students who have not only overcome daunting challenges in their personal lives but who have also excelled academically,” said Dr. Felipe Alanis, associate dean of Continuing Education and K-16 education. “We also honor the families, teachers, and public and private organizations that work together to help these students succeed.”

Texas has the second-largest migrant education program and the largest interstate migrant student population in the nation. Students and their families migrate annually from Texas to 47 other states. The university’s Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program originated in 1987 and has since enrolled about 17,000 students.

Several philanthropic foundations, individuals, companies and organizations, including the Texas Education Agency, the Microsoft Corporation, the Beaumont Foundation of America and the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation, support the program through gifts and a special project grant. The program provides tools, services and courses to help migrant students achieve and maintain scholastic levels equivalent to those of their classmates who remain in school throughout the year.

For more information contact: Ramona Kelly, Division of Continuing Education, 512-471-2772, or Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.