Artist: Maria Lourdes Alvarez
Harvesting and Documenting
the Voice of the Migrant Student
through Literacy and Leadership Training
The Cosecha Voices: Harvesting the Voice of the Migrant Student through Literacy and Leadership Training Program design and implementation are rooted in research that points to a tremendous need for underrepresented students to find their unique voice in their own experiences in order to positively transform their attitudes about school and academic achievement. To that end, the project aims to
The Cosecha Voices: Harvesting the Voice of the Migrant Student through Literacy and Leadership Training Program was created in the fall semester of 2007 on the campus of The University of Texas – Pan American as an attempt to positively impact the retention rates of migrant students at the university by helping them document and give voice to their migrant experience by way of a Spanish Course—for credit—at the university. The primary aim of the course was to utilize the migrant experience as a source of empowerment and confidence building that would ultimately impact the overall retention and academic success of migrant students at the university. At the same time, the course aimed to strengthen the student’s writing, overall literacy, critical thinking, and analyzing skills by way of creative writing workshops led by American Book Award Winner, Jesus Abraham “Tato” Laviera.
To that end, a course syllabus was developed that would help migrant students connect their lived migrant experiences with their post-secondary endeavors. Students were encouraged to write about and give voice to their migrant experience. By doing so, students were encouraged to critically examine and recognize the tremendous value of their contributions and those of their families to the well being of a nation.
The project was realized because of a strong partnership that was established between The UTPA Department of Modern Languages, College Assistance Migrant Program, and College Access and Support Programs. This collaboration between the Academic and Student Services Division marked a truly innovative approach to help better serve the needs of university students. Another critical partner in this endeavor was Mr. Jesus Abraham “Tato” Laviera. Mr. Laviera is recognized as the best selling Latino poet in the United States and has also been a recipient of the very prestigious American Book Award. Furthermore, Mr. Laviera’s first book, La Carreta Made a U Turn, is the publication that kicked off Arte Público Press—the most well known publisher of Latino Literature in The United States.
Middle School Outreach:
Building upon the success of the Cosecha Voices University Component, the project is now seeking to expand by incorporating a structured and intense outreach effort that targets migrant middle school students in this region. The outreach consists of organizing creative writing workshops with middle school migrant students led by Mr. Jesus Abraham “Tato” Laviera and facilitated by Cosecha Voices Alumni.
Beyond attempting to build migrant student’s confidence by helping them give voice to their migrant experience, we also hope to accomplish two other critical objectives. Firstly, the creative writing workshops will be aimed at strengthening the student’s overall literacy, writing, critical thinking, and analytical skills. Secondly, we hope that by connecting migrant middle school students with current successful migrant university students, the workshop participants will leave with the understanding that a university education is not only within the realm of possibilities, but a goal that they can all achieve!
Project Design and Rationale:
The Cosecha Voices: Harvesting the Voice of the Migrant Student through Literacy and Leadership Training Program design and implementation are rooted in extensive research that points to a tremendous need for underrepresented students to find their unique voice in their own experiences in order to positively transform their attitudes about school and academic achievement.
In his research and text entitled, Chicanas and Chicanos in School: Racial Profiling, Identity Battles, and Empowerment, Dr. Marcos Pizarro finds that:
“Many Chicana/o students are socialized by the schools into a voicelessness that is often difficult for them to acknowledge. Because they do not know anything else, they rarely even realize how the school silences them and their stories. Educational empowerment for Chicanas/os begins with helping these students claim their voice and recognize their own insights on their lives and schooling.”(pg. 259)
About The Author: Marcos Pizarro is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Master’s Program in Mexican American Studies at San José State University. He has also been a Ford Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and an elementary school teacher.
In her research and text entitled, Subtractive Schooling: U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring, Dr. Angela Valenzuela finds that:
“My research suggests that schools…are organized formally and informally in ways that fracture students’ cultural and ethnic identities, creating social, linguistic, and cultural divisions among the students and between the students and the staff.” (pg. 5)
She further indicates that:
“Education still has to be meaningfully tied to children’s lives lest they proceed through life aimlessly with little sense of direction.” (pg. 269)
About The Author: Angela Valenzuela is Associate Professor in Curriculum and Instruction and Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.
In keeping with the findings of these researchers, this initiative aims to not only give voice to the student’s lived experience but to also connect these same experiences to their education. By doing so, we hope to build student’s academic capacities in the areas of literacy, writing, critical thinking and analytical skills.
Project Research-Based Outcomes:
As a new and innovative project Cosecha Voices is currently developing an evaluation tool for the middle school outreach component—that will include qualitative and quantitative data—to help gauge the program’s long-term success and impact on the overall academic achievement of migrant students.
However, we hope that through utilizing some measures that have been established to gauge the program success at the university level, we will be able to demonstrate strong indicators of the program success at the middle school level. Still, the development of these indicators will require that innovative Migrant Education Programs and school districts, partner with this initiative to begin piloting the program at the middle school level.
As stated earlier, this project was initially implemented in a Spanish Course—for credit—at The University of Texas – Pan American. Of the 22 students that participated in the first Cosecha Voices University Course 18 are still enrolled at UTPA. This number reflects an 82% retention rate of those students that participated in the course.
Although Cosecha Voices is by no means claims to be solely responsible for this rate of retention, we do believe that the course played some role. In order to better understand the retention measure, we have included the table below that compares the retention of Cosecha Voices students compared with the university’s general retention rates.
Measures: Student Retention