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International education: Teachers from Ventura County, Mexico team up to help migrant students

Teachers from Mexico and the U.S. are team-teaching classes for migrant workers in a new program in Ventura County.
Teachers from Mexico and the U.S. are team-teaching classes for migrant workers in a new program in Ventura County.

Month-long summer program is intended to give kids an academic and psychological boost.

We’re in a classroom in the Ventura County community of Somis, where dozens of kids are taking part in a one of a kind summer education program.

It’s an effort hosted by the Somis Union School District, and the Ventura County Office of Education aimed at helping the children of migrant farm workers. Two teachers from Mexico are team teaching with four Ventura County teachers.

"The bi-national program is a collaboration between the United States and Mexico. Teachers have the opportunity to come stay with our kiddos, and deliver instruction to migrant students," said Dr. Jesus Vaca, the Superintendent/Principal of Somis School. The school is hosting the program.

"It's a opportunity for kids to be in a comfort zone so they can gain confidence...class sizes are very small, and very effective to nurture an environment that will allow these students to grow their confidence."

It’s the first time the program has been offered in Ventura County. In fact, it’s only being done in three places in the state. Educators say the program is important because it gives a boost to some students who face the issue of having to move frequently because their parents follow the agricultural jobs.

"Our migrant students travel sometimes from school district to school district, state to state, and sometimes from country to country," said Cynthia Salas, who is a Migrant Education Specialist with the Ventura County Office of Education.

"The teachers work together throughout the day with our U.S. teachers," said Salas. "This is an opportunity for the teachers to learn from each other, and at the same time, circle around the students and provide any extra support needed."

Eight year old Ysabel Garcia is one of the students in the program. "We do a lot of science, we can type, we read books, and we do art and play games," said Garcia.

The two visiting teachers also offer cultural enrichment programs about Mexico.

"They are discovering new words, they are discovering things that they didn't know," said Luisa Aguilera. She's one of the visiting teachers. "It's exciting. All day, it's a new experience."

While the program is based at Somis School, the students are from a half-dozen Ventura County school districts.

Consuelo Hernandez Williams is the Associate Superintendent of Student Services with the Ventura County Office of Education. "The grade level for the bi-national program is grade two through six. For the cultural and technology piece (programs) the team grouped the students based on ability."

 The summer program offers basics like reading and science, as well as cultural elements about Mexico.
The summer program offers basics like math and science, as well as cultural elements about Mexico.

She said it normally takes a year and a half to plan a project of this type, but after Dr. Vaca proposed it, they put it together in about three months. Some existing money was redirected for the program. The Mexican government is paying the salaries of the two visiting teachers, and donations have helped cover some of the other program costs.

The American teachers involved in the program are from schools around the county. Tito Rojas is a math teacher at Rio Vista Middle School in Oxnard.

"Being of Mexican ancestry, I didn't really appreciate history until I started learning history about myself. I think a lot of times students don't like history because they don't see themselves reflected in the history,"" said Rojas. "I think what we are doing here is really making a difference."

Students in the program like Alonzo Laiz say it makes learning fun. "We learned about Mexico, and our culture," said Laiz. But, he said he also enjoys the art classes.

While this was a pilot project, those involved in it are already calling it the first annual event. They say it’s such an important boost for migrant students that want to offer it every summer in Ventura County.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.