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Migrant student's commitment to classes lands national honor

WARREN, Minn. -- Ever since Jose Paz Pruneda Jr. was born, he's divided his school year between Mexico, North Dakota and Minnesota. The son of Mexican migrant parents who travel for agricultural work, Pruneda works on school almost every month of...

Warren-Alvarado-Oslo student Jose Paz Prundeda Jr. won a national award for his academic work and will graduate this spring. photo by Eric Hylden/Forum News Service
Warren-Alvarado-Oslo (Minn.) student Jose Paz Prundeda Jr. won a national award for his academic work and will graduate this spring. photo by Eric Hylden/Forum News Service

WARREN, Minn. -- Ever since Jose Paz Pruneda Jr. was born, he's divided his school year between Mexico, North Dakota and Minnesota.

The son of Mexican migrant parents who travel for agricultural work, Pruneda works on school almost every month of the year, whether it's for a Manvel, N.D.-based migrant program or school in Warren, Minn., and in Mexico. If he's not in class, he's working on the farm with his family, he said. Then he starts the cycle all over again.

His dedication to school despite frequent interruption throughout the year has paid off: He was recently named the 2016 National PASS Student of the Year.

PASS, which stands for Portable Assisted Study Sequence, is a national instructional program designed for children of migrant farm workers and used by North Dakota students.

Pruneda has always showed he wants to get ahead, and the award will give him $1,000 toward college. But as the third national winner from the Manvel program, his honor represents a bigger trend -- more migrant students are dedicated to academic achievement, educators said.

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Mary Sorvig, a school principal and co-director of the migrant program, said more students realize they can graduate and are committed to it.

"They do it because they can," she said. "Because we can help them."

Sorvig said students really benefit from Manvel's migrant program, one of two in North Dakota, though the numbers have been dwindling. At one point, 200 students attended the program, but now about half that are registering and about 60 to 65 attend, she said.

Improvements to farm machinery and chemicals have resulted in fewer job opportunities for migrant families, she said. Further, within the last few years, state funding for the program has declined in accordance to need, requiring schools to help finance the program, she said.

Pruneda graduates in May. He plans to follow the path of his sister by attending University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, where he'll possibly major in mechanical engineering, he said.  
He recently flew to San Diego to be recognized for the award. He was chosen from thousands of students nationwide based on an essay he wrote about how the program helped him.

Sorvig, who accompanied him, said the speech he gave before 1,500 attendees was about gratitude.
"He mentioned his parents, the school in Warren, he mentioned our school," she said. "It was all about being grateful for what he's received."


Standout student

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Pruneda has credited the migrant program for its help, but he provides a lot of help as well.

Described as a shy, humble guy, Pruneda has learned how to switch from speaking Spanish to fluent English and translates for other students when they need it. He's consistently worked ahead to complete his academic requirements early, and he's also a paid paraprofessional at his school in Warren, about 29 miles west of Manvel, where he provides tutoring and helps with special education students.

Pruneda said his parents have long prioritized education for their children.

"My parents have always told me, if you have something to do at school first finish up your school, because your education is more important," he said. "For them, it's more important for me to finish up my education and then work."

His life is divided between work and school. At home in Los Ramones, located in west central  Mexico, it's the same -- he goes to school and when he gets home, he helps his parents with whatever they need, he said.

Pruneda is an exceptional student, educators said. His work ethic stands out from the culture in which he was raised, one where students are now slowly starting to realize the importance of education, they said.

Frequently moving between locations, as well as the transition from speaking Spanish to English can be difficult for students. Education can also take a backseat to helping their family with work, educators said.

But students who attend the program appreciate it. The program helps them catch up with credits and gives them access to home-schooling if they need it, said Sandra Fetsch, a longtime program teacher.

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"I want people to know what a great program this is for kids," she said. "They try to do whatever they can to get their credits and they're always so appreciative."

An Early Head Start and Head Start migrant program based in Crookston, Minn., provides comprehensive services for younger students and also serves pregnant women. Similar to the migrant program, the program has seen declining attendance, mostly in northwest Minnesota. Over the past decade, registration at its East Grand Forks, Minn., location, which serves several migrant families in the area, has decreased from 80 children to 20 this year, said director Laurie Coleman.

Sorvig said she hasn't given up hope and the program isn't losing money.

"Sometimes, you have to get a little creative with it to offer what we should, and it's worked," she said. "You have to be here to know how wonderful it is for students."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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