Connecting Educational Stakeholders to Meet the Needs of Migrant Children

Betsabé Román González is a professor at the Colegio de Sonora (COLSON) in Hermosillo, Mexico and an integral member of the Seminario de Niñez Migrante (Child Migrant Seminar)–an interdisciplinary group that focuses on understanding and improving the experiences for migrant students in the state of Sonora. While involved in many projects, her main focus is on the educational experiences of return migration for children from the U.S. to Mexico and supporting educational leaders in best meeting these students’ needs within and outside of the school context. We stopped in with her to see what this looks like in action during her first year at COLSON.

The project I direct is called “Return and Transit of Child Migrants in the State of Sonora.” Part of my role in this position is to make sure we have a database of where all child migrants are within the state–something that currently does not exist. I believe that creating these databases will not only help researchers in doing our work more effectively but will also help government agencies know where they can appropriately allocate resources to best meet students’ needs. In order to meet these goals, I work to shift attention from the challenges faced towards a more supportive lens where I work with government agencies to help them organize and collaborate.

However, I am still relatively new to this context, despite having lived in Sonora as a child and teenager. During my first year, one of my biggest areas of focus has been connecting educational leaders from across geographic locations and systems who have varied experiences meeting the needs of migrant students. The networks I have built in my previous work in Nuevo León, Morelos, and Baja California have been really helpful in this effort and in building local trust. In order to further develop capacity within Sonora, I have been working to put the Secretary of Public Education, Secretary of Education and Culture and the Binational Program for the Education of Migrant Students (PROBEM in Spanish) in Sonora, Morelos, and Baja California in communication to share best practices in ways that have not previously existed.

PROBEM is a key stakeholder in shaping the experiences of migrant students in Mexico as it is one of the few federal programs specifically designated to help ensure that migrant families and their children are welcomed within the educational context. For instance, PROBEM Morelos goes to each school in each municipality speaking to school directors, letting them know that no child should be turned away, even if they do not come with the appropriate documentation. However, the spread and success in the implementation of these efforts have looked very different across each state–in part due to limited resources and in part due to the passion of leader in charge. If I can get buy-in across these spaces, then I can work as an intermediary between the academic, government, and educational community to hopefully grown this impact.

Some of the ways my colleague Gloria Ciria Valdéz Gardea and I have been pushing in this direction has been providing teachers and educational leaders with professional development opportunities to better understand the migratory context and the unique needs of transnational students–students who have had educational experiences in at least two countries (Zúñiga & Hamann, 2009). As I outlined in a journal article (Román González & Zúñiga, 2014) on the educational experiences of transnational students, scholars have found five main trends in Mexican schools:

  1. Child migrants’ educational experiences and backgrounds within schools are often “invisible,” meaning that teachers either do not know they have transnational students in their classroom or fail to acknowledge what they bring with them to the classroom.
  2. Teachers often hold a negative perception of migrant students which often leads to student retention and dropout.
  3. Children often express feeling alone or unsupported in adapting to their new educational context.
  4. Compared to schools in the U.S., Mexican schools have little institutionalized support and capacity to meet transnational students’ linguistic, socioemotional, and academic needs.
  5. Children face every day ruptures when enrolling in Mexican schools including curricular content, school practices, forms of evaluations, teaching styles, etc.

The first large professional development we offered as a Seminar focused on sensitizing the 80 attendees from across the state to these lived realities for migrant students. Our upcoming training will go a step further helping educators understand and design Welcoming Protocols to employ when they receive new students to help facilitate their integration (for a description of how to create Welcoming Protocols see Betsabé’s video here). I draw from my own experiences as an elementary school teacher to help design these interactive spaces and to engage educational leaders in connecting and collaborating towards a common goal of creating more welcoming educational experiences for migrant children.

There is still a long way to go in spreading these efforts and building momentum across the state, but I am excited to share the advances we have made so far and look forward to sharing more of what is to come. 

To follow Bestabé’s and the Seminario de Niñez Migrante’s journey as they continue to grow, please visit her Research Gateand COLSON’s page.

Thanks for reading!

Maxie and Paula