The Ventura campus of Cal State Northridge will become permanent host this fall to a state program that encourages Spanish-speaking students to become teachers and helps children of migrant farm workers stay in school.
The program, known as the Mini Corps because it is patterned after the international Peace Corps, will provide training and salaries for 18 students to work with nearly 400 children of migrant parents in Ventura County.
The state-funded Mini Corps program had been housed at Oxnard College for the past 19 years, serving primarily Oxnard and Port Hueneme migrant families.
The move to the Ventura campus of Cal State Northridge will allow the program to expand into Santa Paula, Fillmore and Moorpark, officials said.
"The students who graduate from the program become the role models for migrant children," said Joyce M. Kennedy, director of the Ventura Cal State campus. "They help raise the expectations of migrant students and their families."
The 18 students who will participate in Ventura County are among 400 who will be chosen for the program on 20 campuses statewide, said Joe Mendoza, director of migrant education for the Ventura County superintendent of schools.
"The Mini Corps gives students pursuing a teaching career a chance to have real classroom experience," Mendoza said. "It also creates a pool of future bilingual teachers from which districts can recruit."
Mendoza said the district plans to hire a Mini Corps coordinator who will work full time at the Ventura Cal State campus.
Thirteen Ventura County school districts representing 6,000 migrant students are participating in the Mini Corps program, Mendoza said. They include Briggs, Fillmore, Hueneme, Mesa, Moorpark, Ocean View, Oxnard High School, Pleasant Valley, Rio, Santa Paula Elementary, Santa Paula High School, Somis and Ventura school districts.
Oxnard Elementary School District has a separate migrant education program, Mendoza said. And other districts, such as Conejo and Simi Valley, do not have enough migrant students to warrant their participation, he said.
College students who work as Mini Corps teachers earn $7.76 per hour for a maximum of 16 1/2 hours per week. In addition, they are able to sample the profession before beginning years of study toward a credential, said Martha Magana, who has worked with the Mini Corps for the past two academic years.
The daughter of migrant farm workers, Magana said she plans to rejoin the program this year while she continues her studies toward a teaching credential at Cal State's Ventura campus.
"We get a flavor of what it's like to be a teacher," she said. "After I worked with the Mini Corps, I knew for sure I really wanted to help kids."
Magana, 23, said that as a child, her family began the year picking strawberries in Oxnard, moved to Stockton for other crops, on to Tracy and then to Bakersfield before sojourning for the Christmas holiday in Mexico. Then the family returned to Oxnard.
She said she enjoys providing an example of a better life for the students she helps.
"If the kids see us working, they think, 'Well, maybe I can do that, too,' " she said.
At the Moorpark Unified School District, where the 45% dropout rate among migrant children mirrors that of the county at large, the children of farm workers need more help than the district can afford to provide, said Del Carbine, migrant instructional support teacher for the district.
He said the district's budget to help its 400 migrant students has been significantly reduced during the past three years of statewide budget cuts.
The Mini Corps workers provide an essential link between the teachers and students and their families, he said.
"In the classroom, it really helps the kids understand what the teachers are saying, particularly if they are not bilingual teachers," he said. "They also provide tutoring after school and help train the parents to help their kids stay in school."
Students interested in signing up to work in the Mini Corps program should contact Dan Wakelee at Cal State Northridge's Ventura campus at 654-4575.