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Minnesota education commissioner visits migrant school in Olivia to hear students' stories

Minnesota's Migrant Education Program works with students whose families are migrant farm workers. The program helps students avoid falling behind as they travel with their families and stay on track to graduate.

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Isiais Guerrero, left, a junior, and Leo Silva, a senior, speak with Heather Mueller, Minnesota commissioner of education, during her visit on July 6, 2022, to the migrant education program at BOLD High School in Olivia.
Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune
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OLIVIA, Minnesota — Spending part of the school year in Texas and part in Minnesota has its challenges, both with different required classes and some subjects taught in different grades.

But students at the Migrant Education Program at BOLD High School in Olivia find some good, too. They have friends in both places, and there's less violence in Minnesota.

Students shared their stories with Minnesota Commissioner of Education Heather Mueller when she visited the program last week.

Students in the program come from the BOLD, Buffalo Lake-Hector, Renville County West and Willmar school districts. The program is there to help students avoid gaps in their learning as their families move.

About 72 students from preschool through high school attend school on campus, said director Jane Sanchez, and another 30 are served in other ways.

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The school operates Monday through Friday and will end July 20.

The students’ families work in agriculture. Many live in Texas and move north for work in summer and fall. The same families have come to the area for many years.

Sanchez said she has known some of the high school students since they were in kindergarten.

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Minnesota Commissioner of Education Heather Mueller listens to student comments during a visit to the Migrant Education Program at BOLD High School in Olivia on July 6, 2022. The program provides education for families of migrant farm workers.
Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

Mueller said she wanted information about how the program serves students and families.

The students told her graduation requirements differ between the states, and teachers present information differently.

Sometimes credits don’t move easily from one state to the other, they said, and some classes are taught in different grades.

For example, Algebra I is a junior high class in Minnesota but a high school class in Texas. Texas does not require students to study American civics, but Minnesota does.

Junior high students told Mueller there is less violence and fighting in the Minnesota schools and communities, and they like having lots of friends in both places.

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One junior high boy said summer migrant school “keeps my brain sharp; when I don’t study in the summer, I forget things.”

At the migrant school, he said, “people support me.”

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Senior Leo Silva smiled slightly and said, “It’s perfect,” when Mueller asked him about the school. “The teachers are friendly and everyone’s nice,” he told her.

Mueller said it’s important that the migrant program meet both students’ and families’ needs.

“Life takes people all over, and continuing to be flexible is important,” she said. “The system shouldn’t get in the way of a student’s path to graduation.”

Officials at the Department of Education have discussed ways of offering varied paths to graduation, Mueller said.

“We don’t have cookie-cutter students,” she added. “I don’t want anything in the K-12 system to inhibit you from what you want to do next.”

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Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller, left, listens to Maria Silva answer questions about the Migrant Education Program on July 6, 2022, at BOLD High School. Silva's grandson Alex Silva translated for her and also answered Mueller's questions.
Linda Vanderwerf / West Central Tribune

Maria Silva said her family has been working in the area for many years. She said the summer program has been good for her children — and now her grandchildren.

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Alex Silva, 13, an eighth-grader, translated for his grandmother and also answered Mueller’s questions.

Maria Silva said the program helped keep her family members on track to graduate, and it gave them positive experiences.

“They did not fall behind, and they came to school because they didn’t want to be in the sun,” she said.

Alex said he appreciates the summer school. This summer he’s receiving help to prepare for the advanced classes his school in Texas wants him to take after he did so well on his standardized tests.

He’s been moving ahead in math and reading Shakespeare and Homer, Sanchez said.

Minnesota teachers take more time to help students understand what they’re learning, Alex said, while in Texas teachers tend to move on more quickly.

Mueller said she was glad to hear that the students and families were finding things they liked in Minnesota. It's important to find ways to ease the migrants’ transition between the school systems.

It's her hope that some of the migrants may eventually decide to put down roots in Minnesota, she added.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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