Sherrie Peif
speif@greeleytribune.com

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May 3, 2014
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Dozens of migrant students honored at annual Weld celebration

Since Erika Cárdenas left Mexico two and a half years ago, there has been just one thing missing in her life: Grandma.

Erika, her mother, her brother and her sister were excited to come to America to be with their father and husband after 20 years apart. In the time they’ve been here, they’ve traveled back to Mexico in the summer to see her, but Erika still misses the woman she said is like a second mother to her.

In just a few weeks, she will have her grandmother here, witnessing something that has been her goal since crossing the border: high school graduation.

“This is her first time here,” she said. “This is her first time in a plane. She doesn’t want to come, but she’s going to. She wants to see me graduate. I’m so excited to have her here.”

Erika will walk with her classmates in a few weeks from Greeley West High School.

Friday, however, she and her family got an early celebration as one of the more than 70 students from around Weld County honored by the Northern Region Migrant Education Program for excellence in education. The ceremony, which drew about 200 people, took place at Valley High School in Gilcrest.

The program is run through Centennial BOCES, a cooperative education organization that delivers educational programs and assistance to more than 50 school districts across the north and eastern part of the state.

Erika was actually one of seven graduates who received a scholarship for having a grade-point average of higher than 3.0. Erika had the second highest (3.62) of all the scholarship winners, and the highest in Weld County. She received $900 for her efforts.

Another Greeley West graduate, Eva Medrigal, received $750 for her 3.54 GPA. They were the only two from Weld.

This is the 15th year for the celebration. In addition to celebrating nearly 40 graduates, the program honored more than 70 children in grades kindergarten through 11th as outstanding students, 17 outstanding educators and, new this year, one GED completer.

“The national average is that 50 percent of all migrant students do not graduate,” BOCES organizer Mary Ellen Good said before the ceremony. “But since we started the Migrant Education Program we’ve seen a high success. Rather than saying, ‘Oh how terrible,’ we say, ‘Oh, how great.’ ”

For Erika, it’s been a long 28 months to get here. Erika’s father came to America before she or her siblings were even born, so for all 17 years of her life, she grew up on the family farm in Michoacan, Mexico, with her grandmother, caring for her while her mother worked at the local school during the week and at the hospital as a nurse on the weekends.

Her dad would come home for two weeks out of the year, but it was never long enough, she said.

It took a long time for her father to get them U.S. resident cards. Leaving her grandmother behind was bittersweet.

“I miss her a lot,” she said before the ceremony. “When we first got to California, I was really scared because I watched movies in Mexico about how bad people were bullied there.”

She had a teacher who took her under her wing and helped her adjust, then she moved again one year ago to Greeley to be near her mother’s brother.

“I miss Mexico, but now I’m excited to be here because I’m finally comfortable,” she said.

She said the toughest part was learning the language that she still sometimes must think about before responding.

“When I first got here, when someone would say something to me, I would just say ‘Yes,’ ” she said with a laugh. “But I came to school and worked hard.”

Erika also got a scholarship for finishing the program that will pay for her first year in college. She plans to attend Aims Community College on her way to becoming a child psychologist.

She said there is only one thing she hopes she has taught others while she’s been in high school, and hopes for all people.

“We all have to respect each other,” she said.


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My Windsor Now Updated May 3, 2014 12:44PM Published May 5, 2014 06:08AM Copyright 2014 My Windsor Now. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.