Mariana Ontiveros of McAllen and Baltazar Jose Cruz Jr. of Lometa named Migrant Students of the Year at The University of Texas at Austin

AUSTIN, Texas—High school students Mariana Ontiveros of McAllen and Baltazar Jose Cruz, Jr. of Lometa were named Students of the Year Monday, March 3, by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin.

Ontiveros and Cruz each will receive $2,000 scholarships from the ExxonMobil Foundation . They were selected for the honor from among about 1,400 migrant students from throughout Texas who participate in The University of Texas at Austin's Migrant Student High School Graduation Enhancement Program. The program , which is coordinated through the university’s Continuing and Extended Education's Distance Education Center, allows migrant students to continue their studies by taking paper courses , or online courses with laptop computers, as they travel with their families across the country to harvest crops.

The recognition ceremonies at the Frank Erwin Center also honored 34 exceptional migrant students for their exemplary accomplishments. More than 200 migrant students and many of their parents, teachers, counselors and school administrators participated in the luncheon.

Counselors from 22 school districts in Texas nominated the students from their area, who were selected on the basis of obstacles overcome, overall academic achievements, extracurricular activities and their performance in the migrant student distance learning courses. A panel of former migrant high school students who now are in college and migrant student educators selected the students of the year.

Ontiveros, the daughter of Maximina and Francisco Ontiveros, was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and has lived in McAllen, Texas, since she was a child. Since the age of seven, she has migrated every year to Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota or Washington, where she has worked in the fields harvesting onions, asparagus and cucumbers.

A junior at McAllen Memorial High School, Ontiveros ranks 24th in a class of 285 students and has a grade average of 92.5. She earned credit in three Migrant Student Program courses—economics, government and health. A graduating junior, Ontiveros will be the first in her family to finish high school and attend college. She plans to attend The University of Texas-Pan American, major in nursing, and will transfer to Med-Ed at San Antonio.

“The (Migrant Student Program) courses have allowed me to work independently and at my own pace with my busy schedule.,” said Ontiveros. “I have also learned to set timelines and use time wisely. My goals and dreams of graduating in three years were fulfilled by the flexibility of these courses. Now I can pursue my college education and quickly join the workforce to help my family and become a role model to my three younger brothers.

Cruz, the son of Minerva and Baltazar Cruz, was born in Comanche, Texas. When he was in the eighth grade he began migrating every year to Brownfield, Texas, where he hoed and weeded cotton.

Cruz is a senior at Lometa High School, where he is ranked fourth in his class. He maintained an A average throughout his junior year. Last summer, he earned credit in a Migrant Student Program course, U.S. government. He will be the first in his family to graduate from high school and attend college. He plans to study to become a coach, an athletic trainer, a counselor or a social worker.

“Jose wants a career that will involve helping children in any way he can,” said Peggy Wimberley, coordinator of the migrant program. Cruz handles many of the responsibilities of raising his brothers because of his mother’s visual disability.

“The Migrant Student Program course has helped me a lot. It helped me by allowing me to take a class during the summer so I didn't have to take it during the school year,” said Cruz. “That put me ahead so I could take an extra class and graduate on the Recommended Graduation Plan instead of the Minimum Graduation Plan.”

The Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program is coordinated through the university’s Continuing and Extended Education's Distance Education Center. Typically, children of migrant farm workers are at a disadvantage in the classroom because they miss periods of school. They are uprooted from their homes and schools during early spring and late fall to be with their families who migrate to areas where migrant work is available. The mission of the migrant student graduation enhancement program, which began in 1987, is to help students overcome educational barriers. The program offers students access to distance learning courses through high schools in Texas with the help of the Texas Education Agency. Students use laptop computers supplied by the Microsoft Corporation.

Note to editors: News media can obtain photos of the two students by contacting Marsha Miller at 512-471-6412.

For more information contact: Nancy Pettit, Distance Education Center, 512-471-9260, or Robert D.Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.