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Adelante Migrant Education program at SRJC helps migrant students move forward

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Ever Flores says he racks up about 17,000 steps a day while making his rounds on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus.

Flores goes from classroom to classroom, checking in on more than 250 middle and high school students enrolled in the Adelante Migrant Education program, a summer learning opportunity for the children of migrant parents, who are often migrants themselves.

Flores has directed Adelante — Spanish for “forward” — for 17 years. The federally funded program serves Sonoma County migrant students who have moved across school district boundaries at least once in the past three years. Students participate in the all-day program for six weeks, taking courses in math, English, science, college readiness, history and Ballet Folklorico — traditional Mexican dancing.

Flores works as a counselor at Healdsburg High School during the regular school year, but began directing Adelante in 2002. He has seen first-hand the difference this summer program makes in students’ lives.

“Literacy is so important for the future of California,” Flores said. “So if you don’t start educating the most needy and prepare them for the jobs of the future, I think we’ll create a greater divide between the haves and have-nots.”

Roberto Ramirez is a retired Sonoma County teacher who has taught math and physics at Adelante for 39 years, since its inception in 1980. Ramirez, himself an immigrant who arrived in the United States from Mexico at age 16, said the work energizes him even after all these years.

“As an immigrant, it gives them a place to belong, where the child is accepted,” Ramirez said. He tells students that there’s no problem with being “at the bottom, or being in a hole, because you have nowhere to go but up.”

Students walk the campus in matching teal shirts, and hold daily soccer tournaments after lunch. High school senior Evelin Cardenas has participated in the program for three years, and wants to apply to Sacramento State University this fall. She says Adelante helped her make this decision.

“It teaches us to collaborate with each other, and they give us a lot of information about college,” Cardenas said.

Migrant students face steep challenges at school that many of their peers don’t have to worry about. In addition to a language barrier, many students are low-income and have to move often with their parents, who must follow job opportunities around the county.

Pedro Avila, vice president of student services, knows how difficult these challenges can be. Born in Mexico, Avila came to the United States at the age of 9 and spent many years trying to attain fluency in English. He and his two siblings managed to overcome these barriers and all three earned college degrees from Fresno State. Avila is now working toward a Ph.D. in Community College Policy.

“We have a lot of people that are first-generation college students, and I think in a way we’re passionate about providing services because we want to pay it forward,” Avila said.

Irma Vega teaches the confidence and leadership course Yo Puedo (“I can”) to 7th and 8th grade students. This summer, the class took a field trip to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, wrote books about themselves, and learned basic sewing skills.

On Wednesday they were watching “Temple Grandin,” a biopic about the autistic animal scientist who advocated for the humane treatment of livestock.

“What’s the message throughout the movie?” Vega asked her students.

“We’re all different,” they replied. “We’re all different, but?” Vega prompted.

“We’re all different, but no less,” the students answered.

Vega teaches third grade at Cali Calmécac Language Academy, a dual-immersion grade school in Windsor, during the school year, along with many of her colleagues at Adelante.

“This is such a powerful program, and I always do my best to remember that this is a reflection. I just want to be a model,” Vega said. “If I can do it, they can do it too.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meghan Herbst at 707-521-5250 or meghan.herbst@pressdemocrat.com.

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