Migrant Life and the Inspiration of a Mother

graduation family picture

Left to Right: Merylee’s husband Reymundo Juarez, daughter Lizelena Marie, son Angel Manuel, father Mario Alcala, daughter Alexandra Ines and Merylee Juarez on the day of her GED graduation.

“Termine la escuela. No queremos que sea como nosotros, a trabajar en los campos en el frío y la lluvia.” [Finish school. We don’t want you to be like us and work in the fields in the cold and the rain.] My mom has always encouraged me to get an education and now that I am a mother myself, I truly understand the significance of her words. Even though agricultural work is honorable, migrant life is difficult and as a student, this is especially true. Time becomes a precious commodity when balancing work, school and family responsibilities.

At 10 years of age I started blueberry picking with my family in Michigan for eight months out of the year and then would live in Texas for the rest of the year. Since then I’ve held several migrant jobs including price tagging and shipping field plants. My parents, trying to give us a better tomorrow, would work long hours every day and as one of seven children, I would help to watch my siblings while my parents were gone.

I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, but watching my mother learn English to apply for a better job while still caring for her family, inspired me to go back to school. I passionately love to help people, just like my mother, but I realized that in order to help others, I had to help myself first. After several hurdles, I enrolled in the U.S. Department of Education’s High School Equivalent Program (HEP).  The HEP assists migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children to obtain a GED and serves more than 5,000 students every year. It has made a tremendous impact in my life by not only helping me educationally but by also providing job placement assistance.

mother and children

Merylee’s mother, Maria De La Luz Alcala

The HEP really helped me get on the path to achieving my dreams. I may have a long way to go in becoming an elementary teacher and then ultimately a Migrant Student Counselor, but I want my children to look at me like I have looked at my mother since I was a child – as a role model. Her drive and encouragement has been a huge force in my life. This Mother’s Day, I hope she reads this blog and understands how grateful I am for her never ending support and for providing for her children the best way she knew how.

Gracias mama. I will continue to make you proud and prove that all your hard work was not in vain. ¡Porque cuando se quiere, se puede! [Because when you want it, you can achieve it!]

Merylee Jaurez is now a proud college student at South Texas College and President of the Migrant Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and Secretary of the Title I PAC in Monte Alto, Texas.

Interested in learning more about ED’s migrant programs?

Migrant Education Program (MEP): Ensures that children of migrant workers have access to and benefit from the same free, appropriate public education, including public preschool education, provided to other children. The MEP funds help state and local educational agencies remove barriers to the school enrollment, attendance, and achievement of migrant children.

College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP): Assist migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their children to successfully complete the first undergraduate year of study in a college or university, and provides follow-up services to help students continue in postseco

English Learners Key to a Multi-lingual STEM Workforce

Future U.S. competitiveness will depend on how well we prepare our students and provide them the proper skills to be college and career-ready, especially when it comes to careers in the STEM fields.  In the K-12 education setting, this means providing ALL students, including English Learners (ELs), access to a high-quality STEM education.  Unfortunately, recent data indicate that ELs often do not have the same access to quality STEM instruction as their non-EL peers.  To highlight effective practices and resources for promoting EL achievement in the STEM subjects, ED’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) recently hosted a one-day forum entitled, “High-Quality STEM Education for English Learners”.

Held in Washington, DC on July 11, the forum was attended by more than 65 participants who listened to presentations from individuals representing research, practice, professional organizations, and business in the STEM fields.  Notable speakers included Congressman Rúben Hinojosa (D-TX) and Michelle Shearer, the 2011 National Teacher of the Year.

One big take-away from this forum is that perceptions about English Learners need to change.  Rather than seeing English Learners in terms of their academic underachievement, we need to see them as an untapped resource for developing a multi-lingual STEM workforce that has the potential to keep the U.S. competitive in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Congressman Rúben Hinojosa opened the meeting by sharing a motivating and inspiring personal story about his own experience as an English Learner growing up in 1940’s south Texas. Hinojosa highlighted his work to support greater educational opportunities for residents of south Texas and his efforts to support and strengthen minority-serving institutions (MSIs), especially in south Texas, in hopes of creating an education pipeline for students living in the mostly agrarian region.

During the forum I shared several key findings from the recently released Civil Rights Data Collection biennial survey.  The survey’s Part I findings show that English Learners are still being denied access to the kinds of classes, resources, and educational opportunities necessary to be successful in college and career.  Among other things, the data shows that English Learners have lower rates of enrollment in Algebra I, which is a critical gateway course for other advanced math and science courses that act as hurdles that slow or halt a student’s progress towards a college degree.  The data also show that English Learners tend to enroll in advanced placement math and science courses at lower rates than their non-EL peers.

During her remarks at the forum, National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer, who teaches chemistry in Frederick, Maryland, shared some effective teaching practices she has used with deaf students that teachers can use with EL students such as using examples when teaching a new concept, using visuals, making lessons relevant to students’ lives, and validating students’ use of their native language. She spoke enthusiastically about her teaching experiences and emphasized that besides the basic 3Rs, students will need the 4Cs: critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills.

Besides teacher education and effective practices, other presentations focused on data collection, data analysis methods and research; parent, family and community engagement; and the potential impact public/private partnerships can have for reforming and transforming STEM education for ELs.  Those interested may view the presentations online at http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/meetings/stemforum/.

Rosalinda B. Barrera, Ph.D. is assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education.

ED Wraps Up National Conversations on English Learner Education

The lack of valid and reliable assessments for English learners (EL), the loss of instructional time due to an overemphasis on testing, and the lack of English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching strategies in teacher preparation and professional development programs were dominant themes that emerged from the six National Conversations on English Learner Education hosted by the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) over the last four months. The needs for fostering greater family and community engagement, and ELs with special needs were also themes that cut across all six conversations held in Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Other themes from these conversations will be identified and synthesized in a report, which will inform the work plan for this office for the coming year.

Hosted in collaboration with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), the office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), these meetings brought together a diverse group of EL stakeholders including educators,  researchers, policymakers, university instructors, and advocacy groups who were asked to consider and discuss the question, “What makes for a quality education for English Learners in the 21st Century?”

Utilizing a format that was intentionally meant to be participatory, interactive, and action-oriented, these meetings were characterized by dynamic and engaging dialogues that served to identify current areas of major concern,  share promising practices for classrooms and schools, and define new directions for reform and transformation in English learner education.

In addition to this series of national conversations, our office has many complementary efforts planned in the coming months.  These include two forums: one on English learners with disabilities that will take place in Las Vegas on May 18th in collaboration with the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), and a second on English learners and STEM education that will take place in DC in July. OELA will also host webinars for practitioners and continue working to inform key initiatives including ESEA reauthorization.

There is no question that human capital is our nation’s greatest resource.  Failure to prepare the nearly 5 million ELs in our pre-K–12 systems – more than a tenth of all our students – would squander something very precious and is something our nation cannot afford. Ensuring that all students are ready for college and careers has never mattered more than now, if we hope to realize President Obama’s goal for the United States to have the best-educated workforce and the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

Rosalinda B. Barrera, Ph.D. is assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education