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Juan's Story (PA)


Juan did so well in his 11th grade year that he was inducted into the National Honor Society and was named Chief Programmer for the SPARC Project (NASA Space Station/Robotics)



Student Success

Target Audience:

High School Migrant Students, Migrant Education Program (MEP) Staff


"Juan" and his family arrived in Philadelphia on July 10, 2015. They fled their home country of Colombia to escape the violence and threats against his family. It was very hard to leave their beloved country. Juan did not sink into despair but rather realized how precious life is and that he should never waste an opportunity. An MEP program specialist was assigned to Juan’s family in September of 2015. Juan quickly made it known to all that he was determined to become a computer engineer. Juan started high school as an 11th grade student despite not finishing 10th grade in Colombia. He attended his assigned classes at his new high school but soon realized his classes were too easy. Juan and the MEP program specialist spoke with the ESL coordinator, teachers and roster chair. It was determined that Juan would be placed in honors classes despite being an English Learner (EL). This was a first for this high school: to have a recently arrived English Learner placed in extremely competitive courses. Juan was monitored by the ESL program teachers and was given special permission to join the honors and AP classes. He impressed all his teachers with his quick learning and dedication. He did so well in his 11th grade year that he was inducted into the National Honor Society and was named Chief Programmer for the SPARC Project (NASA Space Station/Robotics). As if that were not enough, he was chosen to represent ELs from the School District of Philadelphia as a panelist at the Spring TESOL 2016 conference in Philadelphia.

Juan and the MEP program specialist spent many evenings applying to summer opportunities for his engineering dream. He applied to the Governor’s School of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon Summer STEM, MIT Summer Institute, and ESAP (Engineering Summer Academy at Penn). The University of Pennsylvania accepted him based on his abilities, grades and interview, however the program cost $8,000.00. This is a very competitive and expensive summer program where the students live on campus and take classes in their intended science/math major. The MEP program specialist decided to take a chance and wrote a letter to a former colleague that now worked at the University of Pennsylvania to explain Juan’s circumstances and his inability to prove financial need for a scholarship. Through networking and many emails, the MEP program specialist convinced the ESAP administrators to accept Juan as a scholarship student. Juan was awarded an $8,000.00 scholarship to attend the EASP summer program, another first for an English Learner.

Maria first moved from Mier y Noriega, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, to Houston, Texas, when she was 11 years old. She did not attend school in Texas, even though she lived there for a few months, due to the family’s migratory lifestyle. From Houston Maria and her family moved to Tifton, Georgia, where she first started in the Migrant Education Program at the age of 12.

Maria believes that the Migrant Education Program in Tifton was outstanding. She has fond memories of program staff who she says were the only people who ever offered her true help. Her Migrant Education Program teacher provided after-school English lessons and assisted with homework. Through the program, Maria went on many educational field trips, such as to the pool for swimming lessons and to the zoo and movie theater—she vividly remembers seeing the movie Free Willy. The Tifton program opened up new worlds for Maria and gave her experiences she had never known.

Maria’s family became a true migrant family and started moving annually from Tifton to Winchester or Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, and back. Maria started working in the fields with her parents starting at age 12. After school, on weekends, and during all school holidays Maria and her siblings worked hard alongside the adults. In Kentucky, Maria and her siblings learned all there was to know about working with tobacco. They set, transplanted, weeded, topped, cut, housed, and stripped tobacco. In Georgia, she worked with jalapeños and tomatoes as well.

As Maria’s family moved around, each new school Maria enrolled in would start her on the basics. She learned the same things over and over. Maria believes that her Migrant Education Program teacher was the only person to help advance her academic knowledge.

When Maria was in 10th grade, she was forced to drop out of school to start her own family. She was not in school for several years and had not yet attained a conversational level of English. Five years ago, her father was diagnosed with cancer, so Maria was forced to learn how to navigate the healthcare and hospice system. Through these experiences and seeing the strength she had to overcome these obstacle, Maria was empowered to continue with her schooling.

Maria, now a mother of five, enrolled in an Adult Education program and received her High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) in just 2 months. While she was taking HSED classes, her English improved significantly so that she even took her HSED test in English. Motivated to continue, Maria pursued a bachelor’s degree in Social Work at Morehead University. In 2017, she was awarded the Richard Reser Scholarship for Minority Scholars for her outstanding honors and achievements. She received a medal, certificate, and $500 scholarship.

Maria completed her practicum coursework with the Clark and Montgomery County Migrant Education Programs in Kentucky. Though this was an untraditional choice, she wanted to work with the people who help migrant students. Maria has been a great joy to work with and has motivated us even further to encourage our students to follow their dreams.

Maria graduated in December 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a 3.3 GPA. She is now an Educational Interpreter working with the English Language Learners program in the Clark County School System.

Maria attributes her self-motivation to the confidence and knowledge inspired in her from her Migrant Education Program experiences.

Student impacts:

Juan's participation in the Engineering Summer Academy at Penn program of 2016 was a great opportunity for him to meet and learn about the other students that were as passionate and curious about science and math as he was, as well as to be mentored by staff from Penn's Engineering Department. Juan was on the computer graphics team with the brilliant instructor Mark Van Langeveld, Ph.D., where he learned how to model characters (inspired by cartoons or humanized) in Autodesk Maya Platform. To enrich the students' academic experience, ESAP staff members took the students on a field trip to a movie company to see how the characters were modeled and then brought to “life.” The students and professionals exchanged knowledge as they watched examples of machinimas and examined model strategies. Through this program, Juan received a glimpse of what his future could hold. Juan's future may be very uncertain and may not be a straight path, but with his perseverance and intelligence and the support of programs such as Migrant Education, our MEP staff members believe he will be successful at whatever field he chooses to pursue.

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Contact Information

Ms. Carmen M. Medina
Chief, Pennsylvania Department of Education
Bureau of Teaching and Learning, Division of Student Services
Pennsylvania Department of Education
Phone: (717) 783-6466