Migrant students overcome challenges to graduate.
How she defines home: “Home is my mother, nothing else. Where she is, if I’m with her, I don’t need anything else.”
The last time Amalia Pureco stepped into the fields of Falkner Farms in Myakka City was when she was around 10 years old.
The Lakewood Ranch High School senior said her father Angel Pureco, a migrant worker, said she needed to work hard because farming would be her future.
“I rejected that future,” Pureco said.
She wanted to do more.
Pureco was one of 23 students from four Manatee County high schools recognized at the 33rd Annual Migrant Education Awards Ceremony April 25 at Lakewood Ranch High School.
It celebrated graduating seniors who have participated in the Florida Migrant Education Program. It supports students by providing school supplies, extended-year tutoring programs and other supplemental resources for migrant children.
Pureco was among 12 graduates honored from Lakewood Ranch High School. Other graduates came from Bayshore High School, Palmetto High School and Southeast High School.
Pureco said she has found an abundance of support from teachers, the school district and its ESOL/Migrant/Immigrant Services department. Teachers helped motivate her and helped her apply for college, and she said having access to supplies made a difference.
“If it wasn’t for them, a long time ago, I would have given up,” she said.
Bertha Salazar, a home school liaison with the school district’s ESOL/Migrant/Immigrant Services department, said many of the children of migrant workers who use the district’s resources have worked in the fields themselves and don’t want the same for their future.
“They know that their education is their way out,” Salazar said.
She said migrant students face unique challenges. For example, many can’t participate in after-school activities because they have to catch the bus home. Many spend their spare time, including school breaks, working the fields. If they migrate with their families to work in northern states, they often don’t get back before the beginning of the school year, so they have to study to catch up and make up their lost time.
Salazar said having to work hard and seeing their families work hard often leads migrant students to have a greater desire to succeed compared to the non-migrant student.
“Their challenges and success have to be celebrated,” Salazar said. The graduation celebration recognized both the hard work of the students and the parents, too, for getting their children this far.
Some students also earned scholarships.
Pureco won the $1,000 Manatee Education Foundation Santiago Sanchez Jr. Scholarship and is now one step closer to her dreams of studying psychology and becoming a counselor.
She plans to attend the State College of Florida for her studies. But she’s chasing more than a career — she wants to work hard enough so her parents, both in their 60s, can stop working and she can buy them their own house.
Fellow awardee Vanessa Cisneros migrates with her family to Michigan every year during the summer to pick cucumbers with Falkner Farms. When school is in session, she heads to the fields every Saturday and Sunday to help lighten her mom’s workload.
Cisneros, also a Lakewood Ranch High School senior, received a $500 scholarship from Falkner Farms. She plans to go to Manatee Technical College to study practical nursing and follow her passion of helping others.
Pureco urges others who might not know what it means to be a migrant or immigrant to consider the potential in each person.
“You can’t just judge a book by its cover,” she said.