Monterey County counts half the migrant students it had a decade ago.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
F or nearly as long as she can remember, Abigail Romero had two homes: Salinas and Imperial Valley, in Southern California. She and her two siblings were migrant students, hitting the road twice a year with their family to chase crops and economic opportunity.
Three years ago her father, an agriculture company supervisor, got a job that allows him to stay put. For the first time, Romero, now a senior at Greenfield High School, could plant roots.
Romero says constantly changing schools caused complications, like scheduling hiccups and misaligned classes. Sometimes she’d end up in a class, like math, that was moving quicker than her previous one. “I’d stress out about it, because I’d stay up super late trying to figure it out,” she says.
Now, she says, it’s easier to stay on top of her studies, and her grades have improved.
For students like Romero, the chance to settle is a good thing academically. Overall, migrant students score slightly lower on the California Standards Tests and have a slightly higher dropout rate than non-migrant students.
The number of migrant students has declined significantly in the past decade. In 2011 there were nearly 14,000 in Monterey County, down from approximately 29,000 in 2003, according to data provided by the county’s Migrant Education Program. Experts say the decline could be explained, in part, by migrant parents putting a higher emphasis on their children’s education.
Officials encourage parents to limit disruptions in their kids’ schooling, says Ernesto Vela, coordinator at the county’s Migrant Education Program. Sometimes this translates into situations in which parents head out on a migration route but leave their kids with relatives.
It isn’t just a desire to create a stable educational environment that prompts parents to migrate alone. They might want to test the economic waters of a place before bringing the rest of their family, rather than risk a move without a job. And for people with undocumented children, it could be safer to leave them behind when traveling to states with strict immigration laws, like Arizona.
Changing migration patterns and industry practices also factor in to the overall migrant decline. For example, in Ventura, where strawberries are grown part of the year, new crops are being introduced so workers can stay year round, says Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, director of the California Department of Education’s English Learner Support Division.
Nora Castellanos ventured from Salinas to Texas in December, hoping her husband might find a better job. But by January, prospects were petering out; she came back early, rather than risk her first-grader missing school.
Castellanos, who was a lawyer in Mexico but now works part-time at a childcare center, places a premium on education and family. Though her husband is no longer on a migration route, if he was, Castellanos says she’d want to join him, despite possible disruptions in her daughter’s schooling.
“In the ideal, we wouldn’t want students to be migrant,” Vela says. “The best scenario for a student is in their class, with their highly qualified teacher, in their school.”
That’s the case for Romero, who is rooted in Monterey County for now. But she may pick up again soon, when she hears from UCLA and CSU Long Beach about her college applications. Then it could be another trip down south.