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3 percent of students are migrants
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“Summer” vacation for 600 plus Manteca Unified students starts in mid-December and ends in mid-March.

That’s because almost 3 percent of the district’s 23,500 students are children of migrant farm workers.

And if you doubt its’ a tough row to hoe, ask Juan Estupinan.

The 1984 Manteca High graduate has been there.

“People need to know that on Saturday mornings migrant students aren’t watching cartoons,” Estupinan said. “They are out in the fields working with their parents.”

For the past eight years Estupinan has served as the site director for migrant farm worker housing on Mathews Road in French Camp. It consists of two complexes between the San Joaquin County Jail and the Veterans Administration clinic in French Camp. The housing complexes are in the northwestern most portion of the Manteca Unified School District.

“They (the complexes) operate like small communities,” Estupinan said as he gestured toward workers finishing up a rehabilitation project by placing a new roof on a housing unit.

Each complex includes preschool programs and a learning center. 

“Education is important to the families,” Estupinan noted.

And — as far as Estupinan is concerned — Manteca Unified has been doing a good job helping migrant students keep up with school work.

He recalled that when he was attending Sequoia School and Manteca High growing up, the schools always made sure they had workbooks and such to take with them when his family returned to Mexico during the winter when migrant agricultural jobs dried up in the United States due to the weather. Students almost always complete all of the work.

“Education is very important to the families,” Estupinan said.

About 80 percent of the families at the two Mathews Road housing complexes come from the same area in Mexico. Almost every family returns year after year. There is also a waiting list.

The reason for that is simple. Not only do the French Camp housing complexes have a solid reputation but they have the same thing going for them that attracts others to San Joaquin County — it’s central location.

“It’s central to where a lot of jobs are,” Estupinan noted referencing vineyards in Lodi to lettuce fields in Watsonville.

The ability to follow the field jobs without pulling up their families is appealing to workers.

Students from the migrant farm workers housing go to French Camp School and East Union High.

Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer noted there are migrant students at other schools such as Nile Garden School.

“A lot of people don’t realize we have a fairly large number of migrant students (in Manteca Unified),” noted Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke.

Burke met last week with migrant housing management to address a problem that has been perplexing for half of the families houses in the two complexes.

The complex closest to Interstate 5 doesn’t have Manteca Unified bus service since they are within “walking distance” of French Camp School under district policy instituted after budget cuts in the early part of the Great Recession. But just a couple hundred yards further down Mathews Road at the second housing complex that is a mirror of the first, students are able to ride a Manteca Unified bus.

“Mathews Road has a lot of high speed traffic making it dangerous to walk along,” Estupinan noted. “It is now also being used as a way for commuters to go to the Bay Area.”

Equally bothersome is the fact people are driving to and from the jail throughout the day and night as well as some individuals who walk back to Stockton after they are released.

Burke is working with the Manteca Unified transportation department to come up with a solution.

Test scores show the migrant students are doing fairly well. That’s a credit not just to Manteca Unified efforts that include creating a special school track around the families’ work schedule but onsite learning and tutoring centers.

Estupinan said the learning centers are crucial since parents often do not have the language skills, the time due to exhaustive work or the knowledge to help their children.

Even so, the migrant students have a high graduation rate.

The same is true for their families.

“Every year we have two or so families that don’t return because they are able to buy a home in Stockton,” Estupinan noted.