Outstanding High School Students from Weslaco and Edinburg, Texas Named Migrant Students of the Year at The University of Texas at Austin

April 6, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — High school students Deyanira Castillo of Weslaco, Texas, and Amanda Lira of Edinburg, Texas, were named Students of the Year on Monday, April 6 by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin.

Each student received a $2,000 college scholarship funded by a gift from the Exxon Mobil Foundation. The Migrant Students of the Year 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.

Deyanira Castillo with her mother Maria Castillo after receiving the Migrant Student of the Year award
Deyanira Castillo with her mother Maria Castillo after receiving the Migrant Student of the Year award.Photo: Christina Murrey

Castillo and Lira were among 40 migrant students honored in the ballroom of the Texas Union for their exemplary achievements during the university's annual Exemplary Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony. The event was attended by about 275 guests, including migrant students from 17 Texas school districts. This year more than 1,200 Texas migrant students are earning high school credits toward the completion of their high school graduation requirements through the program, which is administered by the K-16 Education Center within the university's Division of Continuing and Innovative Education.

"These students go well beyond what is expected of any student," said Dr. Felipe Alanis, associate dean of Continuing Education and director of the K-16 Education Center. "The kind of strength, courage and talent these students demonstrate every day is an inspiration to everyone around them: their fellow students, their families, their instructors and their employers. They make me very proud to play a part, however large or small, in the advancement of migrant students in Texas."

Castillo, a senior at Weslaco East High School, has traveled with her family for the past 17 years to Gregory, Mich., where she began working alongside her parents, Luis and Maria Castillo, at the age of 14 packing radishes, beets, carrots and spinach. Although she doesn't often arrive back to Weslaco until six weeks after the school year begins, she ranks fourth in a class of 318 students.

"Deyanira is one of the brightest, most confident and hard-working students I have ever had the opportunity to know," said Castillo's migrant counselor. Among Castillo's academic accomplishments are a 102.3 grade average and recognition for high scores in rigorous Advanced Placement exams. She also has earned numerous awards throughout high school, including Student of the Week for South Texas College and Student of the Month for the Rotary Club. Last year, Castillo took an educational tour of Europe she paid for herself.

Castillo also is involved in extracurricular activities. She is a member of the National Honor Society, president of the Student Council, a member of the Drama Club and a competitor in the University Interscholastic League Math and Prose teams. In addition, she has worked at a department store since February 2007. Castillo plans to attend the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.

"At this school, I hope to obtain a degree that will help me make my dreams come true," Castillo said.

Drs. Judy Ashcroft and Felipe Alanis with Migrant Student of the Year winner Amanda Lira and her mother Delma Lira Sanchez
Dr. Judy C. Ashcroft, dean of Continuing and Innovative Education, and Dr. Felipe Alanis, associate dean of Continuing and Innovative Education and director of the K-16 Education Center, congratulate Migrant Student of the Year winner Amanda Lira and her mother Delma Lira Sanchez.Photo: Christina Murrey

Lira, the daughter of Francisco and Delma Sanchez, is one of seven children in her family. After her father died when Lira was three years old, Lira's mother and family struggled to overcome their difficulties together—as a family. Each year, Lira and her family migrate to Bowling Green, Ohio, where she picks cabbages and tomatoes. Despite the hardships of being a migrant student, Lira is excelling at Johnny G. Economedes High School. She will soon graduate early in her third year of high school. Among her academic achievements is earning the "E" Award in English, a place on the A/B Honor Roll and a 3.9 grade-point average, making her one of the top 10 migrant students in her class.

Lira also is involved in a number of extracurricular activities. She plays the bass clarinet in the band and advanced to state competition with her solo ensemble. She also is a member of the National Honor Society, the "Sky's the Limit" Migrant Club, Spanish Club, Educational Talent Search Trio and the Green Club. During her spare time, Amanda works with the Image for Conservation organization. She also has accumulated 145 hours of community service helping migrant farm workers translate and fill out forms. In fall 2009, Lira plans to attend Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where she will pursue a major in English and a minor in Spanish. She aspires to become a counselor.

In addition to the two "Students of the Year," three additional exemplary migrant students were each awarded $2,000 college scholarships from the Exxon Mobil Foundation at the event. Pedro Fuentes from C.C. Winn High School in Eagle Pass, Texas, Diana Gutierrez from La Joya Senior High School in La Joya, Texas and Jessica Rios from Johnny G. Economedes High School in Edinburg, Texas, are the recipients of these scholarships.

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 48 other states to work in agricultural and other seasonal jobs.

Since it was begun more than two decades ago, the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program has enrolled more than 22,000 students in its mission to increase the graduation rate of high school migrant students in Texas. With funding from the Texas Education Agency and gifts from the Beaumont Foundation of America, the Exxon Mobil Foundation, the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation and the Microsoft Corporation, the program helps Texas migrant students earn high school credits through distance learning courses that meet Texas curriculum requirements.

For more information, contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of the President, 512 475 7847; Kevin Wier, Division of Continuing Education, 512-471-2731, or Peggy Wimberley, Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program, 512-471-6037.