Mini-Corps: Studing to be Bilingual Teachers


By Joan Moss
While voters in Califor nia deliberate on the future of bilingual education in California, mini-corps college students throughout the state who are themselves children of migrant workers are working in classrooms and studying to become bilingual teachers. Geri Burrell, adviser for the Mini-Corps program for Lake and Mendocino Counties, recently traveled to the Cabe Bilingual Education Conference with six mini-corps students who all work as instructional aides in Lake County Schools and attend Mendocino Community College. These students plan to become bilingual teachers as part of the mini-corps recruitment program, according to Burrell. Christie Otto, a bilingual teacher who has worked within the Kelseyvillle Unified Schools for over twenty years, said she felt very gratified to see the six students at the conference in San Jose, students who graduated from public schools in Lake County and are now attending college. "I felt proud that they [the students she saw at the conference] were motivated to graduate from high school and go on to college, choosing the field to education. Maybe we helped motivate these kids to plan to become bilingual teachers. One of these girls grew up in a labor camp by out house. We know the struggle the parents went through to just make ends meet and educate their children. And here there child is now in college studying to become a bilingual teacher." Christy said that one of the Mini-Corps students, Jaime Chavez, works in her third grade class as an instructional aid part time in the mornings. First year Mini-Corps student Jaime Chavez said he is the first boy in his family to graduate from high school. His sister already graduated from KC [Kelseyville Continuation School], and his brother will graduate from KC this year. He attended the Kelseyville Schools from first through the 12th grades. He said his greatest reward came as a Mini-Corps student is "being there to help the kids, knowing that they're learning better by having someone there to help them out." Jaime remembered that he committed himself to becoming a bilingual teacher during his freshman year in high school, when he attended a leadership conference sponsored by Migrant Education in 1994 in San Francisco. "My main interest is teaching in a town where there are many bilingual students," states Jaime. Kelseyville is such a town. According to Fingertip Facts on the California Mini-Corps Program published by the Butte County Office of Education, Jerry McGuire superintendent and Maria Avila, Director, "The Calfornia Mini-Corps Program was initiated in 1967, patterned after the Peace Corps program. A corps of college students with a rural-migrant background was recruited to work [in summer programs] as teacher assistants in migrant impacted schools." In 1974, school year mini-corps programs were initiated slowly throughout the state, according to the fact sheet. "Through the Mini-Corps program, former migrant students are selected and trained to tutor migrant children, thus helping to bridge the gap between the migrant community and the public schools...Mini-Corps students work one-to-one or in small groups with migrant children and their families...they are an excellent role model for raising the academic aspirations of migrant children." [Promising Practices and Programs for Improving Student Achievement, Cal. Department of Education] Geri Burrell writes that the program had produced, 50% of California's present bilingual teachers. She went on to explain that students she advises have to maintain a grade point average of more than 3.0 [a B average] in order to work 15 hours a week as an instructional aid in the classroom. Students with under a 3.0 work nine hours a week. Monica, one of Burrell's mini-corps students, said she enjoyed learning about bilingual education at the Cabe Conference, especially an art lecture. Last year Monica worked in the Lakeport Schools and this year she is continuing her studies at Mendocino College and working in the Middletown schools. She said she was looking forward to the next mini-corps field trip. Monica's Aunt, Delores Arroyo, is a bilingual third grade teacher at Kelseyville Primary school. She expressed great enthusiasm for her niece's Monica's progress in school and the mini-corps program. Third grade teacher Shushan Vetzmadian said she was a Mini-Corps student when she went to college. Shushan is now an experienced teacher who also coordinates the Kelseyville Migrant Program. Susan Lozano, a bilingual Kindergarten teacher at the Kelseyville Primary School, said she worked in the Mini-Corps in Woodland while going to Sacramento State University. Kelseyville Primary teachers and classes cooperated by creating a school quilt which they raffled off this year for over a thousand dollars, using the money raised to buy more library books. The library at the Kelseyville Primary School has Spanish and English learning to read books, and students participate in Thanksgiving plays and Christmas programs, singing and acting out songs for each other in both Spanish and English. The Kelseyville School Board is presently still defining its bilingual program, but meanwhile, students are learning English with the help of Mini-Corps students, some of whom themselves are graduates of the Kelseyville Schools. According to Burrell, the California Mini-Corps is funded through the State Department of Migrant Education and a migrant education teacher preparation grant through the chancellors office. Literature shared by Burrell states the Mini-Corps is a component of California Plan for the Education of Migrant Children. Roberto Lozano, a court translator and a member of the Kelseyville Unified Schools Bilingual Task Force, pointed out a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, March 18, 1998 that states: "Non-English speaking children should first learn the skills of reading in their own language...the language in which they will best be able to discern the meaning of words and sentences." Whatever the fate of bilingual educational programs in California, the Migrant Education funds will continue because they come from the federal government, according to Geri Burrell, coordinator of the Mini-Corps program in Lake and Mendocino Counties. And Mini-Corps students will continue to help migrant children while themselves studying to become teachers who speak two languages.

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