Adonay Montes, assistant professor of education, discussed how a new program is helping migrant Latino students overcome the social and academic challenges they face when starting school in America, Monday in the President’s Dining Room.
Montes’ four week program took place last the summer and involved 40 high school students from Imperial County who have been in America for four years or less.
“I provide the support to begin to redefine how they see themselves in the future,” Montes said.
As part of the program, the students lived at ULV while taking classes in reading, writing and math to improve their chances of passing the CAHSEE, as well as workshops to improve their confidence and social skills.
Montes, who was once a migrant student himself, said that most migrant students do not visualize themselves attending college or are intimidated by the environment.
As a way of helping them visualize their goals, Montes took pictures of them in a cap and gown and placed them as table centerpieces for a ceremony to which their parents were invited.
Montes got emotional when discussing the look on the parents’ faces when they saw their child in their cap and gown.
“There’s a connection between the students and me,” Montes said.
Montes said that a problem Latinos face in America is not being able to feel as though they are a part of a group or community.
In most Latino backgrounds, community is a big part of the culture.
“In America we are more individualistic,” Montes said.
Montes proposed that instead of trying to change it, schools should accept migrant students’ culture and work with them in group environments.
A goal of the program was also to improve the students’ mindfulness; this included improving their coping skills for testing, stress and academic focus.
As part of this, the students were asked to draw pictures of how they felt while taking a test; before and after mentoring.
“Pictures can show you things students can’t say,” Laurie Schroeder, associate professor of education, said.
Schroeder also collaborated with Montes in the creation of the program.
The pictures that were drawn before the mentoring program started were often small and many students drew themselves secluded with question marks or flames around them.
Schroeder said studies show that children often draw flames when they have stress or anxiety.
The post-mentoring pictures showed positive results as students drew themselves smiling and many had enough confidence to write a description in English.
In the pre-mentoring drawings, 65 percent of the students used the words “nervous” or stressed in the caption, while in the post drawings only 35.5 percent used those words.
“The numbers show the positive potential of these interventions,” Montes said.
The learning did not stop outside the classes.
Rosalilia Gradilla worked as a residential counselor for girls where she read poetry and started a dance class with them.
“They didn’t have the confidence to speak English,” Gradilla said.
When students saw Gradilla struggling in speaking Spanish, they better related to her.
“They thought, ‘She’s in the same boat as we are,’ “ Gradilla said.
Toward the end of the program, students were requesting to be taught only in English.
Montes and Schroeder are waiting for the results of the CAHSEE, but regardless if they passed or not, Montes is confident the program gave students the right tools to move forward in their careers.
“(The program) may not be the answer, but it is something worth looking at,” Montes said.
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.