College Assistance Migrant Program supports students from farm working backgrounds
Viviana Castillo can still remember the moment she decided she wanted to go to college.
When she was in middle school she walked into the kitchen at 3 a.m. one morning and saw her cousin, of the same age, preparing to go to work in the fields of Walla Walla, Wash. She recalled how exhausted he was from the early mornings and long afternoons spent doing agricultural work to support his family.
Witnessing the struggles of her cousin and other family members inspired her decision to pursue higher education at the UW.
The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) supports students from migrant and seasonal farm working backgrounds during their first year in college. The federally-funded program provides a quarterly stipend, access to job opportunities, counseling, tutoring, and social activities.
“We become their home away from home,” program director Luz Iñiguez said. “We become their aunts or their uncles or their family members that they can come to whenever they need anything.”
Exploring a different path
Castillo, now a junior, was born in Mexico and grew up in Walla Walla. During her childhood, her father picked cherries, her mother worked in a cannery, and her aunt picked onions.
“My family’s always worked really, really hard,” Castillo said. “I didn’t really appreciate things growing up. But as I started to see things more, and really hear my mom’s stories of how she grew up and what she had to go through, I guess that’s what made me want to be here.”
Castillo said her mother always motivated and inspired her to attend college. Since her mother has fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder characterized by pain, Castillo helped her clean houses in high school. She continues to help out when she is home during breaks.
“Every time I go to work with her, every single time, to this day, she says, ‘See, this is why you need to go to school. Don’t do what I’m doing,’” Castillo said.
Yaneli Salgado, also a junior, grew up in Royal City, Wash., where her father worked in an orchard. When he lost his job, her family moved to Ephrata, Wash., where she attended middle school and high school.
“My parents constantly worked throughout my childhood, so basically, my sister had to raise me,” Salgado said. “I didn’t have the opportunity to do sports or clubs or stuff like that. [My parents] worked really long hours, and by the time they got home, they were exhausted.”
Salgado said she was never able to discuss college or scholarships with her parents because they were unfamiliar with the college application process. She found out about the CAMP program in an email from a UW CAMP recruiter and, eventually, her parents attended a parent orientation organized by the CAMP staff.
At the orientation, the CAMP staff spoke Spanish, which was meaningful to Salgado’s parents.
“It ensured them that I was going to be OK,” Salgado said. “I think it provided security and showed that they could take care of us. My parents really liked the fact that they were able to understand.”
Growing during their high school years and beyond
Each cohort of UW CAMP students is made up of 50-55 students, with seven total CAMP programs in the state of Washington. Students apply to CAMP by March of their senior year of high school. During the advising and orientation weekend at the UW, new CAMP students spend 40 minutes meeting one-on-one with advisers to discuss the program.
Andres Huante, the UW CAMP recruiter and academic adviser, visits high schools each fall to present at college fairs and workshops. The CAMP staff has identified 18 schools that he is required to visit, determined either by a high number of migrant students enrolled there or a high percentage of Latino students on free or reduced lunch.
This fall Huante visited 22 high schools to connect with teachers and counselors throughout the state.
CAMP also reaches out to high school students through the Dare to Dream Academy, a weeklong residential program in the summer. Castillo and Salgado were both involved with the program, which gives students a glimpse into college life to encourage them to pursue higher education.
Salgado said many students arrive at Dare to Dream Academy doubting their ability to attend college.
“People from backgrounds like mine, we’re constantly told we’re not going anywhere,” she said. “A lot of these kids get discouraged, and not just Latinos. Kids can get discouraged by counselors. You don’t even bother looking into extended education because you’re told you can’t go anywhere.”
By the end of the week, she said, the students gain a renewed interest in college education and grow more confident in their academic abilities.
During their freshman year, CAMP students participate in a seminar once a week with other members of their cohort. In the fall, they focus on the transition to college life and development of time management skills. In winter, guest speakers from different departments share advice about networking and accessing resources at the UW.
Finally, in the spring, the students create a scholarship portfolio, apply to experiential learning opportunities, participate in mock interviews, and plan for the future.
In addition to the weekly seminar, CAMP students attend cultural and social events, go on field trips, and have access to academic, financial, and personal counseling.
Castillo remains involved with CAMP as a student mentor. She and three other CAMP graduates meet regularly with current CAMP students to help guide them during their freshman year.
“We’re there as a support system in case they need anything or want to talk to someone who’s been through the same experience,” she said. “It’s easy to get involved in something that you love so much.”
Many CAMP students face judgment by classmates who question their academic abilities.
“People have actually asked me if I think [I got into UW] because of my race, which is really discouraging to hear,” Castillo said. “It’s just interesting to me that people don’t see me as my efforts.”
Iñiguez said CAMP staff members are prepared to help students navigate such prejudice and recognize their worth as students. Nevertheless, students often experience a heightened awareness of the differences between them and their peers, especially financial differences.
“It’s definitely been hard,” Salgado said. “I remember wanting to drop out at one point, because some people just don’t get it. People don’t see the privilege that they have.”
She recalled one particular experience in a design class her freshman year. When the professor listed the materials the students needed to purchase for the class, she reacted differently than many of her classmates.
“I was thinking in my head, ‘This is so much money, I don’t know how I’m going to afford this,’ and the kid in front of me said, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad, my parents can buy me this,’” she said.
Iñiguez wishes professors and faculty had a better understanding of how cultural expectations can discourage students from speaking up in class.
“Some students’ experience as an undergrad gets hindered by fear to actually ask questions or to seek services,” she said. “Getting our Latino students to actually feel comfortable interacting with faculty and engaging with them in thoughtful conversations is hard, because they may feel that it’s a disrespect to question the faculty.”
Despite these challenges, UW CAMP students continue to be successful year after year. One CAMP graduate recently attended the UW School of Medicine, and another former student is currently at the UW School of Dentistry.
In 2013 the UW CAMP program was ranked first out of 40 programs in the country. That year, UW CAMP was the only program in which all participants completed their first year of college and continued into their second year.
For students like Castillo and Salgado, CAMP has provided more than an academic support network: It’s created a second family.
“A lot of students have been through a lot of crazy things,” Castillo said. “But they keep pushing forward and don’t let that get in the way. They use that as motivation. Seeing that motivates me.”
Reach writer Katie Anastas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KatieAnastas