Higher Education: Within Grasp of Migrant Students

Children and their migrant parents woke up as early as 4 a.m. to attend the 26 annual Fuentes Culturales Academicos Conference at Sonoma State University on Saturday, those who attended the event came from as close as Santa Rosa and as far as the cities along California’s northern state border.

More than 200 parents and children attended the event, ranging from about 25 schools, between grades 4 to 12 and out of 22 of California’s northern counties.

Organized and sponsored by Migrant Education, Migrant Education Advisor Program, California Mini-Corps, including from Lambda Theta Nu Sorority Inc. and Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity Inc, Sonoma State Office of Admissions, Sonoma State EAP and Outreach Programs.

People in attendance were welcomed into Darwin Hall with food and drinks during registration at 8 a.m. Christina Reveles-Wagner, the college coordinator for Migrant Education at Sonoma State welcomed everyone to the event and introduced the keynote speaker.

Aida Diaz, principal of Albert F. Biella Elementary School in Santa Rosa. Diaz was a child of 13; who migrated with her family to the United States in 1980 and lived on migrant camps, using the services offered by Migrant Education at the time.

People in attendance were welcomed into Darwin Hall with food and drinks during registration at 8 a.m. Christina Reveles-Wagner, the college coordinator for Migrant Education at Sonoma State welcomed everyone to the event and introduced the keynote speaker.

Aida Diaz, principal of Albert F. Biella Elementary School in Santa Rosa. Diaz was a child of 13; who migrated with her family to the United States in 1980 and lived on migrant camps, using the services offered by Migrant Education at the time.

From the keynote, students and parents went to their workshops, ranging from leadership and team building, to a photography workshop focusing on pinhole photography, a workshop focused on high school students, and even a workshop geared for  parents. College students in California Mini-Corps, Migrant Education and Migrant Education Advisor Program taught the workshops.

“They get a taste of what college is all about, what Sonoma State is all about and throughout the day, they will be in these workshops, they will sorta be getting a feel for what Sonoma state is about,” said Larry Wagner, former program coordinator with Migrant Education. “They will get lunch here and get a tour of the campus. Hopefully they are gonna go away having learned something in the workshops, having met new friends, and ‘gee I could go to college some day, I could go to Sonoma State some day.’”

Wagner also went on and said, “It’s a motivational day [Fuentes Academic Conference] and it has a long history of over 20 years of being very successful with really a powerful impact on a short amount of time on the future of migrant students.”


Seawolf Involvement

About 50 students from Sonoma State helped through different affiliations, including Migrant Education, Migrant Education Advisor Program, Join Us Making Progress, California Mini-Corps, Lambda Theta Nu Sorority Inc., Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity Inc., and Sonoma State Office of Admissions. Sonoma State EAP and Outreach helped the event from volunteering, organizing and hosting workshops.

“I am all for higher education,” said Joseylne Calvillo, Biology major, a sophomore at Sonoma State and a part of JUMP. “Being a first generation college student I didn’t have that role model [and] I didn’t have opportunities like these to help me learn about higher education.”

Calvillo struggled learning about higher education in high school, trying to figure out how to attend college.

“I’m glad that I was a part of it and being able to help. Take time out of my day in order to contribute to children,” said Ariana Meza, an undeclared freshman and a volunteer for JUMP and StudyBuddies.

The Greek community was also showing their support by volunteering their time.

“We hold these workshops for them so that they can begin thinking about higher education,” Natalie Sepulveda, a fifth year at Sonoma State majoring in both spanish and women’s and gender studies.

Sepulveda is a part of Mini-Corps, which was started in 1967 and is based off the Peace Corps program, recruiting college students with rural migrant backgrounds to be role models and raise aspirations of migrant students throughout K-12 schools.

Being a part of Mini-Corps, which helps put on the Fuentes Academic Conference, Sepulveda noticed the need for volunteers.

”Since I figured that we needed volunteers at the time [when I started for Mini-Corps], to involve my sorority sisters, since then it has been a tradition every year,” said Sepulveda.

Sepulveda prides herself in her work, and the volunteer work her sisters do every year for Mini-Corps and for the annual conference. The majority of those helping migrant students and parents, those setting up early Saturday morning, handing out food, and registering were of the Greek community at Sonoma State.

“It’s always great to see all the little kids leave at the end of the day with a big happy smile.” said Sepulveda.

Life in Sonoma County, English as a second language

“Growing up in Sonoma County, picking grapes and the prunes was really tough,” said Diaz. “My motivation was you were going to work in the fields, or go to school.”

Diaz explained the difficulties there were growing up in America, learning English as a second language and living in poverty. Both her and her sister left the fields, to pursue higher education, Diaz’s sister, who’s name wasn’t released was able to receive her master's in journalism at UC Berkeley and is now an editor for The Arizona Republic, Arizona’s largest oldest running newspaper.

Diaz and her siblings attended summer school through Migrant Education. when growing up they were sent to camp Navarro (now camp Nunez), her mother learned how to cook healthier alternatives through Migrant Education, provided dental visits and set down a foundation to for Diaz and her siblings to go to school.

“For her [Diaz’s sister], the counselors and teachers at school, the ones that are supposed to be motivating you and telling you ‘that you can do anything you want to do and go to school,’ for them to be telling her ‘you know what just focus on your English because you are going to be getting married and not really succeed,' I think that was really tough for her, but at the same time I think that really motivated her ‘you know what I am just going to prove you wrong.’”

Growing up in the 1980s, Diaz faced discrimination and obstacles against her identity. She couldn’t speak Spanish in public schools, for risk of getting in trouble by faculty. At one instance, a teacher changed her name from “Aida” to "Ida” because teachers couldn’t pronounce her name.

“For me that was really hard, being in six-grade, it just stuck,” said Diaz. “For the longest time, I was Ida.”

In high school, Aida had enough. “Enough is enough, either you are going to pronounce my name or don’t say it,” Diaz said. “I’m losing part of who I am by letting somebody change my name.”

Keeping Culture Alive

After workshops and lunch, students and parents all assembled in Ives 101, which they were treated to Ballet Folklorico, a traditional dance that incorporates local folk culture and other Latin American cultural dance groups.

“The entertainment just really gets them involved,” said Sepulveda. “We bring them that cultural awareness that some of them lack.”

Several dance groups were part of the entertainment segment, including Sonoma State club Ballet Folklórico de Sonoma, which consisted of eight Sonoma State students and Ballet Folklorico Quetzalen, which consisted of adults and children.

“I’m proud of seeing kids keeping the tradition,” said Misael Espinoza, sophomore and a member of Ballet Folklórico de Sonoma, during a short interview behind stage, minutes before their debut for the Fuentes Academic Conference.

Migrant Education 

Migrant Education is a federally funded program, which offers migrant students the opportunity to encounter academic success through a variety of means; Fuentes Academic Conference is one of them.

Part of the Butte County office of education, Migrant Education region 2, covers 22 Northern California Counties, with an enrollment of approximately 14, 844 students. Stretching it’s arms from Marin county and north as Del Norte county, Siskiyou county and Modoc county.

Region 2, had to be broken up into three regions, Santa Rosa area, which covers from Marin County all the way north to Del Norte County. Woodland, which covers from Napa County all the way to Placer and El Dorado County. Last is Oroville, covering from Colusa County all the way northeast of California, to Modoc County.

The program is designed to provide supplementary educational and support services to migrant students.

Migrant Education program incorporates MEAP, Migrant Education Advisor Program, modeled after the California Mini-Corps Program, which provides school counselor trainees and interns to local schools, which migrant students attend to fill in the gap of migrant students dropping out of high school and to increase graduation rates of bilingual school counselors in K-12 schools throughout California.

“What I found with two particular programs Mini-Corps and MEAP is that it’s been a pipeline to bilingual teachers and bilingual counselors,” said Elaine Pearson, Associate director of Migrant education, Santa Rosa office. “Anywhere you go in Sonoma County you’re going to find former Mini-Corps teachers, that are teaching in our schools and in almost all the high schools, and junior high schools, you are going to find former MEAPS, that are now counselors.”

Gustavo Vasquez volunteered by helping host the photography workshop and giving access to the darkroom for the Fuentes Academic Conference,  and documenting the day for the Migrant Education Program. He the Managing Editor with the Sonoma State STAR, you can contact him at Vasquegu@Seawolf.sonoma.edu and follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @GusTheArtist.