Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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UT program stresses education for young Latinos


From left, Lucy Gutierrez, 15, of Fremont and Kalie Salas, 14, of Toledo mix chemicals to create a gel during a program at the University of Toledo, 'UT Empieza Contigo,' - Spanish for 'UT Starts With You.' The program is aimed at young migrant workers and other Latino youths.

Lisa dutton / Toledo Blade Enlarge

Dan Zavala is taking a much-needed break.

For as long as he can remember, Dan's summers have been spent in Ohio waking up at 5:30 a.m. to pick cucumbers for about nine hours, then going to summer school until about 10 p.m. He then goes back to the camp to sleep and do it all over again the next day.

"It's very hard," said Dan, 16. "You look forward to summer school. That gets you through the day."

Dan, who lives in Miami, has been coming to the Woodville area with his family of migrant workers every summer "since I was born," but he's taking two days off to learn more about what his future could hold during the University of Toledo's program "UT Empieza Contigo," Spanish for "UT Starts With You."

The program is an extension of UT's annual Latino Youth Summit held in May, which has workshops about leadership, volunteering, business, entertainment, law, and college planning.

About 60 Latino youths are taking part in the new program, and about two dozen of them are migrant workers like Dan. University officials are trying to get them interested in math and science to help diversify those career fields and raise the youths' potential for success.

"If we can encourage them to think about education, then they can help themselves and their families," said Jose Trevino, coordinator of recruitment and retention for UT's college of pharmacy.

Mr. Trevino, who was a migrant worker until he was 15 and got a job as a janitor at his high school, relates to the youth visiting UT. "I know how hard it is for some of these kids," he said.

Faculty in the engineering and pharmacy colleges are doing their best to get the teenagers interested in the sciences with experiments such as making glue and hand sanitizer and learning how to take a person's blood pressure.

"Migrant students have a very different way of learning," said Isabel Escobar, a professor in the college of engineering. "They tend to learn more with their hands than the typical students, and it's mostly because of their lifestyle working with their hands in the fields."

Ms. Escobar gets a $55,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Education as part of the migrant education program through the No Child Left Behind Act. That money is mostly used to teach the teachers of migrant students math and science.

But this year, some was set aside to give the young migrant workers the stipend they would receive if they were out in the fields - $100 for two days - so they could participate.

The youths, in grades 8, 9, and 10 from the Fremont, Defiance, and Toledo areas, said they had a great time yesterday at the program's kick-off.

"I'm enjoying myself very much," said Danae Jimenez, 16, of Defiance. "The whole college experience - it's huge and pretty awesome."

After the science experiments yesterday, the group went swimming and planned to have a dance after dinner to get to know one another better.

Today, the students will learn about business and teaching opportunities for their future. The program ends at noon.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at: or


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