Children of migrant workers in Imperial County are being given a helping hand and a chance to seek higher education thanks to a program at the University of La Verne aimed at helping them succeed in the U.S.
The Migrant Education Summer Institute – a month-long program that caters to students who have been in the U.S. for less than three years – is partnered with the Imperial County Office of Education and is funded by Imperial County.
It was started by University of La Verne professor Adonay Montes, who was born in El-Salvador and brought to the U.S. by his mother after his father died. The moved created struggles for him family, Montes said, but through it, his mother taught him the value of a “strong work ethic.”
Montes says he was a “squirrely, motivated and focused” boy, and his immigrant up-bringing is what motivates him now.
“I learned a long time ago that we’re allowed to dream, and every kid is allowed to dream,” he said.
The program recruits youth from Imperial County, and the day NBC4 visited campus, parents were being bussed in to visit their children. As the bus pulls in the, kids can be seen lined up along the windows, eagerly staring, some fidgeting. Many of them have never been away from home like this before.
There is applause as the parents descend the bus stairs. Then hugs. Lots of hugs, and some tears.
For these parents, this program is a chance for their kids to have more options than they had.
“We came to this country with our dreams and goals that we want to achieve and we have passed that on to her,” Andrea Vallejo’s father said in Spanish.
Andrea says she wants to study languages and become a translator.
“I am trying to do my best,” she said.
Melissa Velenzuela says her goal is to be an architect. She says her parents always tell her to “study, study, study.”
Yajaira Cebreros Rios want to become a nurse. The day parents visited the campus, her mother came but her father was in the fields. She wells up when she talks about him, and says she understands the sacrifices he is making now for her future.
“My dad, he wakes up at 3 a.m. and comes back, sometimes, at 5,” she said. “My dad wants to give me the best because he doesn’t want me to be in the position that he is in and he is trying to give my brothers and sisters the opportunity he never had. I really appreciate that. I love my dad.”
University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman says she is proud of this program and that it reflects the values of the university. She believes the program will make graduating high school and going on to college a real possibility for the youth involved.
“They will say, I have an option now. Universities are accessible to me. I can go on and do more with my life than I ever thought possible,” Lieberman said.
As evening approaches, the parents prepare to board the bus back to Imperial County. There are more hugs, more tears and a few whispered blessings. There is also the sense that they have all travelled a great distance to get to this moment.