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Nationally honored program ‘graduates’ 180

“Find your heart. Follow your heart and you will find your destiny,” playwright Luis Valdez told a group assembled in the University Center at CSU Monterey Bay on July 30.

Valdez, founder of El Teatro Campesino and an original faculty member at CSUMB, spoke to an audience of several hundred youngsters, their parents and educators.

Junior Otters fill the ballroom at CSUMBHis remarks were made at the graduation ceremony of the Migrant Junior Otter program. A monthlong collaboration among the university, the Monterey County Office of Education and El Teatro, the program involves youngsters from migrant families in grades four through eight from nine local school districts.

The youngsters were bused to campus – some from as far away as King City. They received instruction in language arts and math each morning. Afternoons were devoted to creative activities, including music, dance and art, taught by staff members of El Teatro. The youngsters were also introduced to college life and learned what it takes to be a successful student.

This year there was a stronger emphasis on language development, said Ernesto Vela, director of Migrant Education Region XVI, which includes Monterey County.

Luis Valdez addresses the group“Theater goes hand-in-hand with language development,” Dr. Vela said. In previous years, he said, general academic instruction was provided. This year, “we had a strong focus on language.”

After remarks by Valdez and several administrators, the students showed off their work. The younger ones performed six skits they wrote themselves; the seventh- and eighth-graders showed videos they made.

The program, now in its sixth year, was recognized at the 2010 National Migrant Education Conference as an outstanding example of a collaborative effort. In 2012, it was selected for a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association.

Golden Bell Awards promote excellence in education by recognizing outstanding programs in school districts and county offices of education. They reflect the depth and breadth of education programs necessary to address students’ changing needs.

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Photos and video by Patia Stephens

Top: Monterey County Office of Education officials welcome the Junior Otter and their families to the closing ceremony

Bottom: Luis Valdez delivers keynote address. The theme for the monthlong program was "Head, Heart and Hands"