“A lot of people think that migrants are people who are immigrants — they are not," Oscar Herrera, senior interpreter and translator for Long Beach Unified School District, said.

They are people who migrate to different places for work," he added. "Usually they work within the state, but sometimes they move around to other states."

Herrera added that migrant workers are men and women who are simply trying to make a living. They survive by moving where the work is — almost always to and from different farms — making it difficult to establish a permanent living space.

This is especially difficult for youngsters, he added.

When the parents have to move for work, the children typically have to follow, Herrera said. This means that they are removed from school and anything else familiar that encourages a productive learning environment.

"This is why the Migrant Education Program (in Long Beach) exists," he said.

The federally funded program operates at Smith Elementary School, and offers programs for parents and students on Saturdays. Teachers are hired for tutoring and to facilitate Spanish and English informational meetings. This is particularly helpful for families whose primary language is Spanish.

The program also provides a platform for students to relocate schools with as little disruption to their education as possible. This is accomplished by having district teachers and volunteers who help them keep track of their studies as the students are relocated to different schools when their parents move for work.

“In the middle of the year they (the family) have to move to survive," Herrera said. "They have to go where the crops are.

“It could be that the student comes to the Long Beach district in September, then the parents find jobs or work in Casa Robles or Salinas or Gilroy area. At that time they move to another school.”

The constant moving understandably strains a student's ability to focus energy on studying, as well as the emotional toll of constantly starting over. 

And the program isn't limited to youth trying to receive an education. Migrant adults are able to work toward their GED through the program as well.

“Many people think they didn’t graduate out of laziness," Herrera said of the adults in the program. "That is not always true. Sometimes they need to leave school to help parents work.”

Herrera added that for the adults that receive their high school diploma through the program, this accomplishment is bigger than just them.

“For a parent in the crop field with an elementary education in Mexico, this is an enormous accomplishment for them,” he said. “It tells their children, 'Look at me, if I am able to do it, you can do it and graduate and become a professional.'"

Andrea Hernandez, McBride High School senior and future California State University, Long Beach, student, is an honor student and a member of the Migrant Education Program since elementary school.

The program helped her learn English as a youngster. She credits it for helping her excel in her academics.

“My first language is Spanish. It used to be difficult for me to write and follow along," she said. " I wouldn’t have been able to learn as much and take the AP classes that I did without the program."

Hernandez's mother is also a graduate of the adult education program, and is only one example of the parents who are striving to provide a better life for their children.

“All of the parents want their children to go to college," Herrera said. "They don't want them to end up in the same spot they are.”

For more information, go to lbschools.net/Departments/EACCR/migrant_ed.cfm.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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