For Rio Grande Valley migrant students, summers are usually spent up north with family harvesting crops to maintain the household income. In Arely Villanueva's case, a 17-year-old incoming junior at Valley View High School, her summers have been spent in Michigan hoeing sugar beets and beans, and picking strawberries and apples since she was 10 years old. However, this year it is different for Villanueva, who is now attending the first Migrant University Summer Experience (MUSE) Camp at The University of Texas-Pan American.
MUSE Camp, which runs June 9-July 23, is available to Valley junior and senior high school migrant students and is hosted by high school migrant education directors, the Region One Education Service Center and UTPA.
According to Salinas, the MUSE goal is to assist students to successfully earn two high school credits and enroll in higher education, as well as view various career options from their internships. The program will also follow students throughout high school to ensure that they are on "the right track" by applying for financial aid and enrolling in college.
This summer's 108 participants are instructed by six high school teachers in subject areas for credit recovery or credit advancement. Students are allowed to choose from economics/government, humanities, art, business computer information systems I and II, algebra and English III. The students are housed in University dorms, and are overseen by 10 resident assistants, program coordinators and a counselor. They are placed in on-campus or community internships Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m.-11 a.m., in relation to their field of interest, and earn a stipend of $100 every two weeks to assist with finances.
Region One Migrant College Access Specialist Jose Martinez said that according to the Office of Migrant Education in Washington D.C., high school graduation rates for migrant children nationally are between 45-50 percent.
"I hope more research happens soon," Martinez said. "The academic needs of these students are very specific especially in high school."
Martinez also believes that while a student is migrating across the nation, they are exposed to various school systems making their credit completion challenging and discouraging, adding to high school dropout rates.
"I think this camp is a great opportunity, because as a migrant student we have difficulty staying on task in school and this helps us be on the same level as all the other students. We leave a month early out of school and come back two months late. This helps us out a lot," Villanueva said.
Villanueva explained the emotional hardships of being away from her family for the first time, yet she said she was excited that she could be a part of this new program and thought it was great that migrant students have this new opportunity. She said she will hopefully be able to be a three-year graduate after the completion of her two credits.
Villanueva was interested in political science, psychology and human services, and was placed in an internship with the UTPA Office of Career Services. She said the MUSE Camp has definitely opened her eyes to the college experience and would like to pursue a higher education.
"I think that migrant students should take advantage of all the opportunities given because now-a-days education is a privilege. They're giving it to us for free and other people don't get this chance of getting ahead and going to college. Your education should come first and our parents want the best for us," Villanueva said.
On July 19-22 some camp participants will be taken on a four-day trip to San Antonio, Austin and San Marcos to celebrate their success. Others will be taken to South Padre Island and on a tour of Texas State Technical College and The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. All participating students will also attend a mini-graduation July 23 where they will receive a certificate for their accomplishments.
"We think the camp is vitally important; we know from past experiences of many of our programs that once students set foot on a university campus and spend some time here it really helps solidify and make firm their commitment that higher education and college is for them. It also helps them find some of the resources that we have. There are ways to pay for college, there are financial aid opportunities, and it really helps them make a firm decision that college is part of their education," Salinas said.
Salinas said that the MUSE Camp will continue each summer, and he hopes to enhance the program with a possible camp for younger students, like high school freshmen and sophomores.
"I don't think you should give up. Being a migrant student shouldn't be an obstacle; it should be a motivation to continue to be better," Villanueva said.