Skip to comments.Students miss school as workers' families visit Mexico
Posted on 12/15/2003 3:50:27 PM PST by yonif
Loaded down with several dozen pages of homework from her third-grade teacher, Zaira Ayala left California for Mexico early this month, two weeks before the official beginning of winter break.
The eight-year-old is one of several hundred students from the Napa Valley who are in Mexico right now, missing school to be with grandparents and great-grandparents who live far away.
Going to Mexico in December is a longstanding tradition for many farmworker families in the Napa Valley, originating from the cycle of the grape harvest, which doesn't provide year-round jobs for everyone. Zaira's father, Rafael Ayala, is a 51-year-old fieldworker who's unemployed for several months every winter.
But Rafael Ayala -- and other parents who take their children out of school for trips to Mexico and other places -- is under mounting pressure from educators to cut back on the number of school days their children are missing every winter.
Last December and January, more than 400 students in the Napa Valley Unified School District missed between one week and one month of school. Most of them were in Mexico with their families. Officials predict the same number of absences this year.
On the day that his family was beginning a 40-hour car ride to Michoacan, Rafael Ayala was torn about the decision to take his youngest daughter out of school for ten days.
"It's hard because school is important," he said, waiting for her afternoon reading class for English learners to wrap up on a rainy Friday afternoon.
Some teachers consider the family trips an important learning experience, and agree to put together makeup work for students who request it so they don't fall behind while they're gone. Other teachers won't make such arrangements, and are calling on parents to honor the school vacation schedule and shorten their time away from Napa.
Convincing the parents to stay isn't easy.
"Culturally, when you're questioning family versus anything else, family comes first," said Maria Cisneros, assistant principal at Napa High School, who's led a three-year campaign to discourage parents from taking students out of school in December and January.
"I've had many conversations in my office ... and I've changed some minds, but not that many," Cisneros said. Last December, nearly 9 percent of the student body at Napa High School left school at least one week before winter break started, missing final exams.
Tough decision for parents, students
Louis Gonzalez, a 16-year-old junior, is one of at least 90 students at Napa High School who's missing final exams next week.
"My grades will drop, but not so much that I will fail," said Gonzalez, a good student with a 3.5 GPA. Under tougher policies in some of his classes this year, he's not allowed to make up the final exam or all of the assignments he'll be missing. Some teachers said foregoing the final exam will lower his grade by two letters.
Gonzalez doesn't think that's fair. "It's really not our decision (to go to Mexico)," he said. "It's mostly our parents'." He's skipped school to be in Mexico every December since third grade -- his dad works for a local pool company, which doesn't have many contracts in December -- but this year may hit Gonzalez' grades harder than ever before. And the days he's gone for the annual family trip will be counted as unexcused absences.
"We can't duplicate what's happening in class," said history teacher Christina Britton, explaining why her colleagues in the history department at Napa High School have not given students in Gonzalez' situation independent study packets -- or let them take the final exam before or after the scheduled test date -- for two years.
Teachers said the strict policy has helped cut down on the number of absences in December. "A couple of years ago, you might have had half of the class gone," said Steve Ingram, a history teacher who's only lost two of his students to Mexico this semester.
But opinions among teachers at Napa High School vary widely, and the administration has not set a schoolwide policy on what accommodations teachers must provide for such students.
Dorothy Glaros-McCallum, a math teacher at Napa High School, gives students who are taking family trips the same assignments -- down to the exact problem -- that the class will be doing while they're gone. "Otherwise, the time spent in Mexico is lost school time," Glaros-McCallum said. But she provides tough deadlines for turning in the work: They must have it done on the day they come back to school. They have five days to take the final exam.
Local education code allows teachers to give students makeup work -- called short-term independent study -- but does not require it unless the student has been granted an excused absence. Most family trips are not considered excused absences.
Some stay behind
One Napa High School student, 16-year-old Erika Aviña, convinced her parents to let her live with an aunt in Napa for three weeks so she wouldn't miss final tests. Her parents went to Mexico in late November with her two younger brothers.
"They didn't want to let me stay here. They were worried about me," said Avina, who has a 3.67 GPA. "I said I was depending on my grades and I'd like to get the highest grades, so they finally said OK." She's meeting up with her parents the day after final exams.
Fear of her grades dipping down motivated Avina to stay, but some people, including the newest board member, Frances Ortiz-Chavez, are calling for Napa schools to consider another solution: extending the winter break.
In a controversial decision in 2001, St. Helena public schools stretched the winter recess to three weeks from two weeks, giving families more time to travel long distances.
Under the new vacation schedule, St. Helena schools have seen the number of school days that students missed in winter cut in half.
Some families change plans
Rafael Ayala, who also has a child at Napa High School, has canceled some trips to Mexico over the years so his eight children could stay in school. Zaira, the youngest child in the family, has only been to Mexico three times. This year, he said, going to his home state of Michoacan is necessary because Zaira's great-great grandmother, 96, is ill.
In Zaira's class at Napa Valley Language Academy, four out of 17 students are in Mexico right now, missing more than five days of school each.
"I got hit hard," said David Kearney-Brown, Zaira's teacher, though he's not complaining. "It's part of being binational."
He gave each student a packet of homework to do while he or she is gone: a stack of reading and language worksheets and multiplication tables to review. He also told them to keep a journal about their trip and to read for 30 minutes a day. Following district guidelines, parent were required to sign a contract agreeing that their children would study four hours a day while they were gone.
"Except for spelling, you can't give them anything that requires instruction," Kearney-Brown said, adding that all the assignments are based on the assumption that the parents will be helping out.
Kearney-Brown said he wishes that the parents wouldn't take their children out of class, but he doesn't make them feel guilty for it. "I don't want to be the bad guy and tell them they can't go after they have bought their plane ticket," he said.
Not and INS truck in sight either.
What they really mean is that Mexico comes first. It is more important for Mexicans to get their way no matter the situation.
Some people make sacrifices like skipping a little work/school to be with ill relatives or take family vacations, but they don't necessarily make it an annual practice.
Zaira is only eight years old, which is 2nd or 3rd grade. She has already gone to Mexico three times. How many times would be enough to remove the word "only?"
Basically, it seems that the Mexicans want our schools to babysit their children when the adults are working. When they go home to Mexico and cause their children to skip school, they're teaching their children that school/education isn't important. So, if these children have lower future test scores and grades, it's their fault, not inherent racism or whatever excuse the liberals use to justify special quotas or affirmative action.
That attitude toward school is unfortunate, because the children more likely to struggle in future classes, drop out of school, or turn to crime in the US. That becomes our future problem.
Bustamante claims a January 3 birth on US soil in Dinuba, California but the Bustamante family tradition was to visit in Mexico during the holidays in the early 1950s before they had children.
Lacking an official county birth certificate or any hospital record of his birth his claim can't be legally substantiated and has never been scrutinized by the media or California officials since the only affidavid he was required to sign for qualification to statewide office was his original party affilliation application which requires no verification of his claim of citizenship.
It was kind of funny. She wanted to be politically correct and not criticize, but the obvious culpability of the parents was difficult for her to dismiss. If some one other than the politically untouchable illegal alien class were to do the same thing, she would have them suspended or the parents would get one of those probing talks from the school district.
That is precisely what is happening. The public schools in the U.S. amount to a free babysitting service for oversized families in Mexico. Don't forget the all important school lunch program, which amounts to an extra welfare subsidy.
Come to Los Estados Unidos. Get the gringos to take care of your kids for you, on their dime. If they complain, have MALDEF or LULAC call them racists, and they'll run and hide.
Exactly. It's hard enough for teachers to have to teach a class of children with a wide range of study habits, and the Mexicans who take their children out of school for a few weeks are only making it tougher to teach the rest of the class. In the end, teachers often simply teach to the bottom half of the class and enlist the unchallenged higher-achievers as free tutors for the underperformers.
Don't schools have rules about attendance? I never knew what the penalties were, but there should be something like suspension or expulsion for excessive truancy. The school receives less money when it has more absent students.
Remember that white girl that got punished at her school for taking off one day to sing in a choir for the President of the United States? About 3 months ago.
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