High school students Rogelio Ortiz of San Juan, Texas, and Sofia Velazquez of Edinburg, Texas, were named Students of the Year on Monday, March 29, by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin.
Each student received a $2,000 college scholarship funded by a gift from the Exxon Mobil Foundation. The Migrant Students of the Year were selected on the basis of obstacles overcome, overall academic achievements, participation and leadership in extracurricular activities, and their performance in distance learning courses offered by the university's Migrant Student Program.
Texas has the largest interstate migrant student population and the second-largest migrant education program in the nation. Students and their families migrate annually from Texas to 48 other states to work in agricultural and other seasonal jobs.
Ortiz and Velazquez were among 40 migrant students honored at the Texas Union Ballroom for their exemplary achievements during the university's annual Exemplary Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony. The event was attended by about 300 guests, including migrant students from 21 Texas school districts. More than 1,400 Texas migrant students are completing their high school graduation requirements this year through the program, which is administered by the K-16 Education Center within the university's Division of Continuing and Innovative Education.
"It is a pleasure during my first year as director of the K-16 Education Center to learn of the successes of our Exemplary Migrant Students," said Gisela Greco-Llamas, director of the K-16 Education Center. "Perhaps the most admirable quality of these accomplished students is their ability to derive determination and inner strength from the challenges they have faced as migrant students. I am proud to be part of a statewide effort to provide these students with opportunities to further their education."
Ortiz, a senior at Pharr San Juan Alamo High School in San Juan, Texas, migrated with his parents to Bay City, Mich., where he worked with his family picking strawberries, pickles and cherries, and cleaning sugar beets and beans. In spite of enrolling late each year at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, Ortiz had a 99.94 grade average in his school's most rigorous Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses. He has taken an Advanced Placement calculus course and a dual enrollment physics course and earned a perfect score in the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills math section. He has been on the "A" Honor Roll every year in high school.
Ortiz also is an accomplished athlete who plays on his school's soccer, cross country and track teams, and earned the Coaches Award for his achievements in track. He also is the reporter of the Graduating Excellent Migrant Students Club, a member of the National Honor Society and the Interact Club, and participates in community service projects. In addition, Ortiz tutors high school migrant students at the migrant lab.
"I will be the first in my family to graduate from high school and attend college," said Ortiz, who hopes to enroll in St. Edward's University and graduate with a degree in mathematics and a minor in computer science.
Velazquez migrated every summer to Schaumberg, Ill., where she worked with her family clearing rocks from cornfields. In addition to the difficulties of migrating, Velazquez has also faced the personal challenge of helping her family while her mother was recovering from cancer.
A senior at Johnny G. Economedes High School, Velazquesz has a 4.0 grade point average in Dual Credit and concurrent college courses and ranks second in a graduating class of 696. Among her academic accolades are Excellence Awards in math, science, history and English, the Superintendent's Excellence Award and the all "A" Honor Roll for the past three years.
Velazquez also is a member of her school's Business Professionals of America, the Spanish National Honor Society, the Sky's the Limit Migrant Club, the University Interscholastic (UIL) Science Team, and the cheerleading squad. She is president of the National Honor Society, vice president of the Green Club and captain of the UIL Extemporaneous Speaking Team. Through these organizations, Velazquez has accumulated more than 300 hours of community volunteer service.
"I know how much my mom has sacrificed for us, and all that I want is to make her proud and to be able to provide for her in her later years, when she needs it the most," said Velazquez, whose goal is to study law and business at Harvard University.
Since it began more than two decades ago, the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program has enrolled more than 25,000 students in its mission to increase the graduation rate of high school migrant students in Texas. With funding from the Texas Education Agency and gifts from the Beaumont Foundation of America, Exxon Mobil Foundation, the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation and the Microsoft Corporation, the program helps Texas migrant students earn high school credits through distance learning courses that meet Texas curriculum requirements.