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Stories from the Field:
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.

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