They Call Me, Mamá –Teacher of the Year Cordelia Fajardo Shares Why She Earned the Award

Professor Cordelia Fajardo and her first grade class celebrate a holiday. Photo, courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.

To my first graders whose parents are gone, I tell them that we are their family. Their classmates are more than friends. They are also brothers and sisters. When they hurt I tell them, “You can call me, Mama.” Professor Cordelia Fajardo teaches first graders in Comayagua Honduras. Some of her students’ parents have left to the U.S.

An Interview by Soledad Quartucci

I didn’t choose a career in teaching. It somehow chose me.  From a very young age I knew I was meant to guide children. I am 67 years old and I have been teaching for 42 years.

Mi name is Profesora Cordelia Victoria Fajardo. I work in the department of Comayagua in Honduras and I teach in the Escuela Manuel Andara.

Map of Comayagua, Honduras.
Map of Comayagua, Honduras.

escuela manuel andara

I got my start at 23 years old. At the time, I didn’t have a fixed school. So I would travel to villages on teaching assignments getting around in carts, riding donkeys, on horseback and on foot. I started teaching in a small village known as El Sitio. From there, I moved around to various places where I was needed, like Flores, La Via de San Antonio and El Coquito.


First Teaching Experiences

At first, I had many difficulties in the classroom. I didn’t have any experience.

With practice and time, I was able to deepen my knowledge. To get through the hard times, I focused on the children who needed me.

My first students were children living in poor villages; they didn’t have enough to eat, and had almost no clothes.

It was in these villages that I grew a heart for solidarity.

The need was so great, that I quickly forgot about my difficulties and got the courage to do everything I could to help, including asking strangers, coworkers and friends for books, notebooks, and shoes.

Getting others involved in helping, energized me. Working on behalf of my students and their families felt good.

How I Learned To Teach

At my first stable job, I taught all grades from first to sixth grade. When I moved to the city I started working with upper division students.

I learned how to teach by asking questions. In my family all my sisters are teachers. I would ask them. How do I teach this? Since I was expected to teach all grades, this was a big task. My sisters helped me through sketching. They helped me with ideas and my heavenly father illuminated me along the way. I knew I was working with a higher force, because instead of being afraid or tired, I would make it through long challenging days with endless energy.

Each day, I would wake up and fight to learn more and to do better.



A Matriarchy of Teachers & Learning by Doing

Four of my sisters have worked in education. They have all retired. At 67 I’m still going. At our school, children go to school from 7 am to noon. We have two shifts. The second one starts in the afternoon. Our curriculum is varied and includes Spanish, math, social and natural sciences, English, physical education and computing.

For physical education, we have soccer and basketball fields. Girls play both sports.

Cordelia and her first grade class. Photo, Courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.

I studied in Comayagua in the Instituto Inmaculada Concepcion where I learned lots of theories.

After we graduated, I knew that I didn’t know anything. I knew I was a teacher but I had no idea how to apply theories into every day teaching.

Life experience in the classroom inspired me with many methods. But the truth is, I invented my own style of teaching along the way.

Every day and with each different class it was like making a salad. I borrowed, adapted, added and mixed all my methods hoping that they would work.

Working with the older students in the upper divisions I felt so comfortable. I prepared my lessons, I explained things to them and they asked so many great questions. But once I moved to La Sabana, I was told I would be teaching solely first grade.


I said, “What? How am I supposed to teach first graders?”

At first it felt like a down grade. I was very sad. I remember staring at the little faces and feeling lost. How would I teach such young children?

Through asking questions and praying I made it through a tough first year. The wonderful thing is that by the end of that first year, all of my first graders had learned how to read. The school considered this a great success and decided I was perfect for this age group.

This was the start of 20 years of teaching first grade.

Nowadays I teach first, as well as second and third. But in my whole teaching career, my favorite grade has been first grade. I love this grade because children arrive in my class without knowing anything. I get to play a significant role in their lives. I guide them out of the dark into the light.

It is always so rewarding when I run into them later in life and see some of them have made it into doctors, engineers, mechanics, builders. I thank God and I say, Gracias!, because you pushed me to help others.

Cordelia and her students in the patio
Cordelia and her Students National Celebration. Photo, Courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.

Comayagua Grown

I was born here. It is a very beautiful and tranquil place. We didn’t use to have as much corruption as our country faces today. Our parents raised us with lots of values. Most of us are children of humble agricultural workers. My father worked in the fields and my mother was a homemaker.

I am so proud and grateful for the parents that god gave me. They were special. The taught us to give back, to teach. They gave us a strong foundation and it led us to find meaningful work.

Comayagua is a very devout place. We celebrate many religious festivals. During Holy Week, lots of tourists come visit us.

Today, very few people work in agriculture. Most work in businesses, factories like soap, juice and tomato paste factories. We export vegetables, cheeses and butter to the United States.

Alcaldia Municipal de Comayagua, where Comayagua's Mayor Carlos Miranda works. Photo, courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.
Alcaldia Municipal de Comayagua, where Comayagua’s Mayor Carlos Miranda works. Photo, courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.

Comayagua is a flat valley. It is surrounded by mountains. About 150,000 people live here. It’s grown quite a bit. Many people have crossed over to our home. People seek work, and get around in bicycle, motor taxis and some cars.

Comayagua Cathedral and City Hall. Photo, courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo
Comayagua Cathedral and City Hall. Photo, courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo

Unfortunately, we suffer from unemployment and that’s why so many locals emigrate.

We Raise Our Children to be Street Smart

The authorities look after the children, as do the parents. Mothers and fathers drop off children and pick them up. We also advise them not to go with strangers and to keep their eyes open and to be careful. We want each one of them safe. If one is hurting, we all hurt. This past year, a stepfather killed his stepson and our school community suffered horribly. We love our students as if they were our own children.

Cordelia and her students perform
Day of the Child. Cordelia and her students in traditional dress. Photo, Courtesy Cordelia Fajardo.

My Homemade Pedagogy

I have been lucky to have been able to be a working woman my whole life. I now have the honor of teaching in Comayagua’s biggest school. We are fortunate to have internet, water and light. We also have plumbing. We do have some crimes and gang problems, but not a lot.

I have taught them to count by playing hopscotch, skipping rocks on the river, and jumping over running water. To teach them a love of reading, I have invented stories, and to build vocabulary I have emphasized the stories behind the words that hold a lot of meaning to us; important words like love, the sky, Maria and Dios.

It’s all About Reading, Writing, Storytelling and Vocabulary

Regarding our student body, some of our children are local and others come from marginal areas and arrive by bus. Many of my students love math and others love Spanish and reading.

Our biggest effort with first graders is to teach them to read and develop a love of reading. We want them to write without errors and to write neatly. We also emphasize reading with intonation and reading comprehension. First graders love reading time and writing on the board.

One of their favorite activities is questions and answers. They love that. They are naturally curious. They get so happy when we go outside. We usually take them outside for story time because we find that nature is a great source of inspiration for storytelling.

Cordelia and the children dancing
Cordelia and her first graders dance and perform. Photo, courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.

The Meaning Behind Teaching Vocabulary

Part of the reason we focus strongly on developing vocabulary is because many of our children are extremely shy and dislike talking. Some of these children come from single parent homes or live with grandparents because both parents have left to the United States.

These children suffer. Their parents send them money from the U.S. but what they need is love and guidance. They need that desperately.

We know our students’ particular situations very well. We know who these children are, and we do everything we can to give them the love and support that they need. Because these children can often act out, I pray for patience. Every morning I wake up and I pray: Lord, give me patience and give me endless love to reach the children who need me. Give me more love so I can pour it onto them.

I make time to talk to the children who are hurting because their parents are gone. I tell them that I love them dearly. I hug them. I remind them that their parents love them, too. I speak with love and I listen to them.

It may take them a little while, but once they open up, trust begins to grow and we are better able to help them. Children in the first grade are innocent and look up to their teachers as if they were angels. They tell us everything.

“My mama and papa they got in a fight today;” “We didn’t eat today;” “I only brought water for my snack, prof, my mom doesn’t have money.”

They feel safe at school and so they share all the little details of daily life that help us understand them better.

I Make Home Visits

In my years of experience I have found that to really serve my students well, I must understand their world. On the weekends, I visit my students in their homes and try to get to know their parents. I take taxis to get around. I don’t have a car.

The visits help me to understand my students’ living conditions and also the families’ needs. Life in the Marginal Areas of Comayagua can be a very difficult life. If you stop by and visit these families at lunch time, and ask them why they are not cooking, they’ll tell you, “I don’t have anything to cook or to eat.”

If I don’t catch them at home, I also get to know the parents when they come to school to enroll their children. Like their sons and daughters, many of the parents are eager to find compassion and resources. Most, tell us about their difficulties.

I have found that integrated families tend to have healthier children and more food. Their children behave better. In the classroom, when the little ones start fighting, throwing things and saying unkind words, we can tell that they are suffering and that there are problems at home.

To my first graders whose parents are gone, I tell them that we are their family. Their classmates are more than friends. They are also brothers and sisters. When they hurt I tell them, “You can call me, mamá.”

I visit not only my new students but also my professional, older students. To me, they are family. When they are home, they invite me to eat; they visit me. I have a group of students who attend the university, and some who live and work in the U.S. When they return to Honduras for visits, they get together with all of their school friends and they invite me to dinner. We have such a great time.

Horizontes Al Futuro—Horizons, Looking to the Future

On Wednesdays, after teaching first graders, I work with an organization called, Horizontes al Futuro that rehabilitates street youth. We have children as young as 6 years old, all the way up to eighteen-year olds. The director is Gregorio Alonzo Garcia, originally from Spain. Below, Garcia with his students in Horizontes.

12899608_1745477189014260_294008396_o (2)
Don Gregorio, Director of Horizontes, and his students. Photo courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.

At Horizontes I am a member of the directive committee and I also teach catechism. We always try to incorporate fun activities. To help support the program, we cook, sell food and sell raffle tickets.

The children, and teens who stay here are not orphans. They have families, but they are children who have gotten involved in drugs. They’ve stolen, and gotten in trouble. The police picks them up from the streets and then they call Gregorio, and he picks them up.

The children live in Horizontes during the week. Under don Gregorio’s leadership, they get an education, receive clothes, food, and job training. It costs the families nothing. If they get sick, they get medicine, too. On Friday afternoon, we take them to their homes, and on Sundays at 5pm we pick them up and take them back to Horizontes. We meet with the parents and we try to connect the families with resources.

Gregorio is greatly loved by Comayaguans, and especially by the young men who stay in Horizontes. He sets such a big example. Here he is, from Spain doing things for Hondurans that Hondurans don’t even do. Why aren’t we doing more for our own youth?

The children that stay in Horizontes love Gregorio. They call him, papá.

12946830_1745477245680921_635972556_o (1)
Horizontes students perform. Photo, courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.

Horizontes receives help from churches in Spain and also from the Base de Palmerola, a Honduran base that houses U.S. troops in Comayagua. We have gringo godparents in the base that help Gregorio help the children.

In addition to our great director, the center also has teachers, homework assistants and workshop leaders. While in Horizontes, they learn computers, sewing and other trades. The focus is on rehabilitation, reintegration and learning marketable skills. We currently have 45 young men between 7 years old and 18 years old.

Cordelia, Day of the Child comedy show in Horizontes. Photo, courtesy, Cordelia Fajardo.

The gringos from the base, Base Aerea de Parmerola are retired and they are charitable and a big help. But most of our support comes from Spain. On the Dia de los Ninios, the day of the children, a national holiday, the Americans invite the children from Horizontes to the base. They throw a party for them, buy presents and food, and they also celebrate Mother’s Day. The children’s mothers get presents, too.

Base Aerea de Palmerola. Courtesy, Facebook Page
Base Aerea de Palmerola. Courtesy, Facebook Page

Sometimes, with all the help we get from Spain, and from the base, we still don’t have enough. That’s when we head to the streets to ask people to help us. We ask our families, our coworkers and our friends. People donate what they can, everything from money to work contributions. Some people send us monthly donations.

I even ask my fellow teachers,

“Do you want to godparent one of my kids?”

Our School is Beautiful

All of us teachers contribute to its upkeep. The parents and students help us, too. We are currently trying to expand our bathrooms. The school is big but we don’t have enough of them. We also lack in school books and desks. The government does not help us.

Cordelia and fellow teachers.
Cordelia and fellow teachers.

Fortunately, we have an amazing mayor, Carlos Miranda, who is dedicated to helping us.

Everything you see in our school we have bought ourselves. Even the boards. They parents have done their part to help us, when possible. We buy all the desks, we paint the classrooms, and we even installed the floors. They used to be made of mud, now they are made of ceramics.  It gets really hot in the summer, and dirt gets into our classrooms. To help with this we’ve installed new windows.

Mayor Carlos Miranda from Comayagua
Mayor Carlos Miranda from Comayagua meets with local residents. Photo, La Prensa, 1/22/ 2016

Our mayor, Mr. Miranda, is really dedicated to helping us. He helped us finish the gym. We had done as much as we could and he stepped in. Since our school is close to a busy street, our mayor helped us build a different entry way so that the parents and students could come in and leave the school safely.

He also helped us fix five rotting roofs and walls that needed repairs.

I have a student who is disabled and used to sleep in a cardboard bed. I asked the mayor for a little bed and he gave it to me. This is the kind of mayor that we have.

Adolescence, Love and Advice

We cannot openly teach a class about sexuality. But we have our own ways of guiding our young. It is important that we counsel them in sexuality, because they fall in love so young and parents won’t talk to them about their bodies or about pregnancy.

When our children go outside to the playground, we always watch them. Out sixth graders fall in love so easily. So we talk to them, especially when they come to us with questions. We believe in teaching them that their bodies are sacred, but we also believe in providing them with real information.

Last year, one of our sixth graders got pregnant. Now, her mother raises both her and her daughter. It is important that we talk to our young about sexuality, how the body works and about pregnancy. The consequences for not doing so have so many ramifications for everyone in the family.

At our school, when it comes to advice, we have to tread carefully. Not all parents want us to discuss sex, or feel comfortable with talks of pills and condoms. But if the children come to me, and ask, I advise them to the best of my ability.

They call me, Mamá , Grandma and Auntie

Many of our students come to school hungry. They tell me, “I just didn’t bring my snack, prof, can I borrow yours?” We try to bring humor to difficult situations. Laughter helps us all to cope. I tell them, “and when are you paying me back? When I’m a little old lady, you’ll help support me,” we joke.

It makes me so happy to know that they feel comfortable asking me for food or anything they need.


I Feel So Loved

My students love me deeply, and I love them right back.

They say the cutest things. They hug me.

I know no greater joy than when I open the big school door and I see those little faces waiting for me.

“Good Morning, Prof;” they give me the biggest hugs. “You look so beautiful today.” “What a lovely dress!” “I like your necklace.”

When we have parent-teacher conferences, the mothers tell me that their children ask them to change their style to look like me, “dress more like my prof,” “mama, you should wear your hair like my prof.” “Mama, why don’t you put on make-up?”

I love them as if they were my own. I don’t allow anyone to harm them, or hit them. Last year, there was a first grader who wanted to stay in our school, but we were full. Two students were not able to enroll. I cried for those children. They had to go to another school, but I stayed in touch with them and their families. If they don’t understand the homework, I help them. Sometimes, teachers are harsh and lose their patience. I pray for patience. They need me to be loving and immensely patient.

I Tell them, Fight for Your Life, Fight for Your Children.

I have a young student who has serious anger problems. I have talked with his mother but she doesn’t want to accept help. I have told her about psychologists we have in Horizontes. I have offered to pick him up, take him to counseling and bring him home. She doesn’t want me to. The father smokes drugs at home. He is also a wife beater.

Defend yourself, I tell her. Fight for your life and for your son. Leave.

Sometimes, I even go to the grandmothers to enlist their help in helping my little students. After I have tried it all, I also pray.

 I Was a Single Mother, and I Made It

I am a mother. I raised my son as a single parent with the most loving support of my parents.

Cordelia Fajardo's parents. Courtesy, photo, Cordelia Fajardo.
Cordelia Fajardo’s parents. Courtesy, photo, Cordelia Fajardo.

I have been blessed with a wonderful son. My parents helped me every step of the way. I have also been very fortunate to have beautiful life-long friends. My close friends and my family were fundamental in my life.


I was raised to survive, to work and to serve. My father always told me,

”You will work. It is a sad sight to have single mothers beg for the daily bread.” I listened to my father and set out to work. I got pregnant at 21 years old. When my son turned five, my parents helped babysit him while I went to work.

If I made mistakes in my youth, they were due to ignorance. My parents tried to protect me. By not talking to me about the body, about pregnancy and sexual relations, they felt they were sheltering me from harm. These issues were taboo then, and for some families, they continue to be so, today.

My parents did the best they could for us. I grew up with a very tight knit family, always there to help me along the way. Today we all live close by. My granddaughter graduated in industrial psychology. My four sisters live on the same block.

Sagrario y familia

Words for My Students

Keep charging forward! Use school to prepare yourself for life.

I have visited my students in jail. Some, I have lost to bullets. I have had to bury some of my students. I don’t want this fate for my little ones. I want them off the streets. I want them to see themselves as the future leaders of Honduras.

They deserve to be in universities, in great jobs, working in trades of their choice. Perhaps one of them could become our next president of Honduras. We hope he will be honest, a person of high integrity with a deep love for our country and its people.

We will be long gone, but my little students, they will inherit Honduras and its welfare.

I am a Mother of Many-One biological son, and the rest, hundreds of them, well, they could almost be!

I have thousands of children. So many have passed through my life. And they call me, Mama. I am now teaching the children of my first groups of students. When we get together we laugh, I tell them, “here comes my whole generation of students.” I get rewarded every day with so much love.

When they nominated me for teacher of the year, I told the supervisor—who happened to have been one of my students—”Ruben, I am not licensed. We have lots of licensed professors. I’m not one of them.” He told me, “Yes, you are competing with many but what I look for in teaching excellence is experience and a dedicated teacher who has accomplished impossible things throughout her career. I cannot think of a better candidate than you.”

I still cannot believe I was awarded such an amazing prize. Last year, on September 17th 2015, on our celebrated, “Day of the Teacher,” I was named  Teacher of the year in Comayagua. I also received 2 medals, and a computer.

I submitted my paperwork to start my retirement in 2014. I have not receive the okay yet. In the meantime there is just so much work to be done. When the time comes to leave, I will walk home with my head held high and my heart filled with love and unforgettable experiences. I have been a teacher a mother, to thousands of children!


Cordelia, Teacher of the Year Award




Angel in the Fields-A Heroic Teacher Mentors the Children of Migrant Laborers

Oscar Ramos, teacher, and his student, Jose Ansaldo

“I see myself in a lot of these students. They want to learn. They are very curious about everything and very aware of the long hours and the hard work their parents are doing. They don’t want that for themselves. They want something different, something better.” Oscar Ramos, Sherwood Elementary teacher in Salinas, California, as told in East of Salinas. 

The documentary film, East of Salinas, tells the story of Oscar, a heroic teacher and his student Jose, both the sons of migrants. There are many powerful themes packed in this documentary: A devoted teacher, a precocious undocumented child, migrant families struggling to survive, and the effect of immigrant reform on all of their lives. As the documentary tells, Oscar has big dreams for his students and for Jose, a young 8 year old student that reminds him of himself.

He teaches his 3rd graders to dream big, to imagine a life beyond the lettuce fields. He, too, was born in Mexico. Ramos has been teaching children of migrants at Sherwood Elementary for 15 years.

Below, are excerpts from East of Salinas that capture the voices, thoughts and hearts of Oscar, Jose, Jose’s Mother  Maria, and Jose’s Stepfather Jaime. Together, their stories take us to the fields of Salinas, and to the daily dreams that weave their lives.

My students are mainly Mexican students. Half the class is migrant.”

Oscar Ramos on becoming a Teacher:

I was in the 4th grade when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. The students see me as their teacher, but my life could have ended up very differently. I was born in Mexico. My parents came here from Mexico, to give us a better opportunity.

Oscar grew up in the labor camps, working in the fields from a very young age, 7 or 8 years old. He worked in the garlic fields, onion fields, and chile fields.

I remember my mother’s hands, and my father’s hands but, mostly, my hands. Black finger nails cut up, bruised, bumpy and rough.

In the inspiring film, East of Salinas filmmakers Laura Pacheco and Jackie Mow introduce us to the challenging lives of migrant families picking lettuce for all of us in the Salinas Valley. The poignant story follows the lives of Jose Ansaldo, a bright 8 year old student and son of migrant workers, and Oscar Ramos, Jose’s teacher, mentor, and friend.

Laura Pacheco was inspired to film the story after reading an article in the New York Times discussing the difficulties of educating migrant youth in America’s remote fields. Laura contacted Oscar Ramos who teaches migrant students at Sherwood Elementary in Salinas and through him, she met young Jose, and his family.

The story highlights the effect of current immigration legislation on young children and their hard working families.



Jose’s mother works ten hour shifts picking lettuce. Because she is undocumented, she cannot access health care. She suffers from asthma made worse by the pesticides she inhales every day as she works to provide for her family, and for us.


Maria, Lettuce Picker, Salinas, California, and mother of Jose Ansaldo

Every day I wake up at 3 a.m. Sometimes I sleep only 4 or five hours. Sometimes I don’t even want to wake up. Then, I remember all of the bills I have to pay, and I get up.  I leave the kids with the babysitter and then I take the bus to go to work. We work 10 to 12 hours a day. My work is very hard. Cut lettuce all day and withstand the heat of the sun. I was 13 when I came to the U.S. I didn’t know it would be so hard.  I have three children, and of the three, Jose is the only one that was born in Mexico.

He doesn’t know there will be problems. For Jose, every day is a good day. He is a good son and he loves school. But if the law doesn’t change, he won’t be able to study after high school.

Work and Health Problems:

I have asthma. It affects my work a lot. I can’t breath sometimes. I think my problem started with the stuff they spray in the fields. Makes it harder to breathe. What worries me the most is that if I get sick I won’t be able to work. I have Medicaid for Jaime and Daniel, but not for Jose or for myself. It’s good that Jose is never sick.

When  step-dad, Jaime is Gone:

No work until April, even if I want it. Yes it’s very hard when Jaime is gone because it’s double the bills. Rent there, and rent here. Plus bills and food in both places. They had cut off my electricity. I rented a room and with that money I paid the electric bill.

A devoted teacher-a very special student 

Jose and Mr. Ramos

Mr. Ramos on Jose:
“Jose is a fantastic kid. He is extremely smart. Very Happy Student. He is always smiling and jumping around. He is one of those students who is eager to learn about everthing. Jose reminds me a lot of me growing up. We both love school. And even at such a young age, we were already thinking about the future.

The students in my class are only 8 or 9 years old. They don’t understand that if they are not U.S. Citizens they might get kicked out of the country. They do fear their parents getting deported because it’s in the news, and they’ve heard of some cases. But I think it’s more fear for their parents than themselves.”

Jose Ansaldo in his Mom’s Workplace

Mr. Ramos on picking up Jose and his brother to take them to school.

Jose’s family is constantly on the move to help pay the rent. The parents agreed to let him pick them up so they could finish the school year in his class with their friends.

“Jose, this is his 5th school he’s attended already. He came in the middle of the year. There is an adjustment period when a student has a new teacher, and when you have to do it 2 or 3 times in one year, well, that just sets you back a bit. We have to be very creative in the way we help these kids catch up. They can contribute great many things to this country, they just need to be given the opportunity.”



Jaime, Jose’s step dad says goodbye. It’s time to head to Arizona to pick crops.

Jaime, Jose’s Step dad:

“When there is no more work here, I move to Yuma, Arizona.  It’s a 12 hour drive from Yuma to Salinas. Minimum 200 dollars food and gas. That’s why it’s very difficult for me to come home. It’s far. Yuma, Arizona is on the frontier… Many patrol agents and migration checkpoints. There’s more work. But people don’t go there because they are afraid. As a father the most difficult thing for me is to leave them alone. I have to be separated from my family for 5 months. If something happens to them, to get to Salinas is 12 hours. The hardest part is closing the door behind me.”

Being migrant means that their parents follow  the agricultural season. They have to constantly move following the harvest. Regardless of whether the whole family leaves, one parent, or both, it still affects the children, stresses Oscar Ramos.

Oscar Ramos and his 3rd Grade Class, Sherwood Elementary, CA

Mr. Ramos on Parent Conference with Migrant Parents Who Want the Best for their Children 

“Parents want to know, what can I do to help my child. Simply sit next to them. Have them read to you, and you listen to them. Ask them questions. Open their backpacks. Look for their homework. Talk to your child. We have to all work together so they can get ahead. Alone is much more difficult.”


Jose Ansaldo, studious, math lover. Homework first, TV later.

Jose Ansaldo, 8 year old student, child of Migrant Workers in Salinas, California

Jose and his daily life

“I’m 8 years old. I like to play and run, and study, too. I like to add and subtract and multiply and divide. When I grow up, I’ll be a fire-fighter or a cop.

When I wake up in the morning it’s 4 o’clock. I brush my teeth and my mom drops me off with the babysitter so she can go to work. The babysitter wakes me up at 6 o’clock.”

On homework:

“I have to do my homework alone, because my mom and Jaime speak Spanish, not English. But I learn more when I try by myself. It’s important to me to work really hard, because if you don’t do good in school you are going to flunk your grade and then you don’t go to the next grade, or field trips or swimming.”


“It’s kind of hard getting food since Jaime is gone (to Yuma). Sometimes, we don’t have nothing to eat. We don’t have any food for my mom to make. So we have to sleep without eating. Until the morning, till we go to school. Sometimes if you don’t eat for a while, your stomach starts to hurt and starts growling.”

On being home alone:

“My mom and my dad work really hard so me and my brother have to stay home by ourselves. I would like to go outside and play. But, my mom says that I can’t go alone.”

Salinas is tough, tells Oscar Ramos, “way too dangerous outside. Parents worry about kids getting shot or gang activity.”

What does the immigration law mean in the life of an 8 year old who wants to study math?

Jose wants to be an engineer when he grows up, but as the filmmakers point out, “not everyone shares those dreams.”

Mr. Ramos and his students

Mr. Ramos and the Community:

“13 years ago a bunch of my friends who graduated from Berkeley, we got together and started donating money to start helping out less fortunate families; bring them a little joy during Christmas.” Today, these friends work in education, law, the medical field and are business owners. Together, they distribute Christmas gifts throughout the community.

We all do something different but we all grew up working the fields. We knew how hard it was so we all focused on doing well in school. We must not forget where we came from.




To Watch the Full Film, East of Salinas, click here.


East of Salinas was produced and directed by: Laura Pacheco and Jackie Mow; edited by Rachel Clark; music by Joseph Julian Gonzalez. Additional Cinematography: Samantha Grant, Vicente Franco, Jason Blalock Sound Recordists: Laura Pacheco, Ray Day, Todd Dayton, Phil Turner, Mario Furioni Additional Editing: Jessie Beers-Altman Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer Executive Producer for LPB: Sandie Viquez Pedlow

Laura Pacheco is a filmmaker and anthropologist who loves to tell stories about spirited heroes rising against all odds. East of Salinas, premiered s on PBS Monday, December 28, 2015. Check your local listings to view the touching film and to meet Jose, the bright, undocumented son of migrant farm workers and his guardian angel- dedicated teacher Oscar, once a migrant kid himself. 

Jackie Mow (Producer/Director) is passionate about science and education,and makes films with a great diversity of subjects.


What are the Challenges facing Foster Youth after Emancipation in California? Housing, Mental Health and Education Are Critical Needs

“Given what we experience in foster care, it’s hard to trust people. What we need is the same someone to push us in the right direction year after year until we finish school and get a job.” — Youth in Foster Care

Each year, tens of thousands of children in communities across California are removed from their homes and placed in the foster-care system with the goal of finding a safe and permanent home for each child, either through reunification with the child’s family (after the family has met certain conditions), through adoption, or through placement with a permanent legal guardian. While these children are in the foster-care system, the state assumes legal responsibility for their health and safety.

According to The Transitional Housing Placement Plus, THP-Plus, a program created by the California State Legislature in 2001 that provides affordable Housing and Supportive Services to Youth Transitioning from California’s Foster Care and Juvenile Probation System, foster youth comprise an alarming rate of the homeless population in California.

In 2014-15 more than 1 in 4 youth (28%) entered THP-Plus directly from homelessness.

THP-Plus, a Statewide Implementation Project published by The John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes recently released the FOSTER CARE Annual Report 2014-2015. Following is a summary of its major findings for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014-15.



 “I bounced around a lot of schools and never got comfortable being there. Since I knew that I’d be at a school for just a little bit, I felt like I didn’t need to care about my studies.” — Student in foster care


EDUCATION-Foster Youth-Academically At Risk

California is committed to providing high-quality public education for all students. Yet, until recently, reform efforts rarely acknowledged a group of students who persistently underperform: students in foster care.

California has had little statewide information about the education of school-aged children and youth who are in the foster-care system and for whom the state is legally responsible.

This is largely due to challenges related to the availability, collection, and sharing of information about these students across the education and child welfare systems.

As a result, the education needs of these students have often gone unrecognized and unmet—leaving many of them trailing their classmates in academic achievement.

Students in foster care are especially at risk for school failure, as evidenced by poor grades and high rates of absenteeism, grade retention, disciplinary referrals, and dropping out of high school.

California is now setting out to track the academic progress of students in foster care—the first state in the nation to do so.

Thus, the findings reported below are especially timely. California students in foster care have unique characteristics that justify their identification as a separate at-risk student subgroup and that this subgroup has a significant achievement gap compared to the other student groups.

  • Students in foster care were 3 times more likely to be African American
  • Are classified with a disability at twice the rate of the comparison groups
  • Are 5 times more likely to be classified with an emotional disturbance than other students.
  • Are older for their grade level
  • Had higher rates of enrollment in grades 9, 10, or 11 than the comparison groups, a likely outcome of grade retention and a risk factor for dropping out.
  • Are more likely than other students to change schools during the school year. Suffer much higher rates of school mobility than other students.
  • Are more likely than other students to be enrolled in nontraditional public schools. Enrollment in these schools suggests that students were unsuccessful at traditional schools and, thus, were transferred to other schools.
  • Are more likely than the general population of students to be enrolled in the lowest-performing schools.
  • High school students in foster care had the highest dropout rate and lowest graduation rate. Reducing dropout rates and boosting high school graduation rates are state education priorities. To be on track to graduate from a California public high school, students are required to pass both the English language arts and mathematics parts of the California the graduation rate for all grade-12 students statewide was 84 percent, but for students in foster care, it was just 58 percent—the lowest rate among the at-risk student groups.


 “When I was in elementary and middle school, I was switched around a lot. I didn’t leave those schools with teachers or kids I knew. Then, for the first time, I was in high school for four years and made friends. Really, it was the teachers who helped me the most. They showed me that I can finish homework, get good grades, go to college, and have a future.” — Student in foster care


“In foster care we live with the unknown—about where we will be living or going to school or what will next happen in our lives. We often get punished for behaving in ways that are reactive to the unknown. Instead of addressing the real issues, at school we are just treated as troublemakers.” — Student in foster care


“I was in a living situation where school wasn’t a priority. There was no time or place to do homework except after my caregiver went to sleep. There was no one in my life who wanted me to make it through school except a few teachers who talked to me and helped me graduate and go to college.” — Student in foster care


 “My life was chaotic all the time and so was my school experience. I changed schools a lot. I made and lost friends. I didn’t try in classes I knew I wouldn’t finish. I got in trouble to get attention. Then after a while in high school I turned it around because I wanted a better life, and there were a few teachers who cared enough to help me pass and get a diploma.” — Student in foster care


“No one knew why I messed up in school. No one was there to help me be successful in school. No one told me to stay in school. No one cared when I stopped going.” — Student in foster care


Housing: A Critical Post-Emancipation Need–What type of Housing is Available to Help Emancipated Foster Youth?


The housing program provides emancipated youth with two years affordable housing assistance. A year is extended for those in college. However, most youth exit THP Plus without strengthening their capacity to achieve long-term economic stability.

Given the number of parenting youth and youth with disabilities exiting the housing programs many will need ongoing housing assistance in the form of permanent, affordable housing.

The Challenge: Accessing permanent, affordable housing is often seen as an “extra” rather than a requirement.


Of 1,436 youth placed on July 1, 2015, the most common housing model was remote-site housing. In this model, participants live in individual rental units leased by the THP provider.

In FY 2014-15, remote site accounted for 80 percent of all housing sites. The second most common was the staffed housing model (19%), followed by the host family model (1%)

What does it cost to provide Emancipated Youth with Affordable Housing in California?

THP-Plus costs per youth 2013-14.

During fiscal year 2014-15, monthly rate was:

  • $2,457 for a single-site housing model
  • $2,300 for a scattered-site model
  • $1,892 for a host-family model.

EMANCIPATED FOSTER WOMEN –Young Foster Women with Children: The Struggle to Meet the Unique Needs of Parenting Youths.

Almost half of young women served by the housing program for foster emancipated youth are custodial parents. Many of them become parents while living in THP-Plus. The main public benefits received by the women include CalWORKs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and the nutrition program, Women, Infant and Children (WIC).

Specific issues:

  • Securing child care
  • Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the participant’s child
  • Additional cost associated with providing a parenting youth with an adequately sized apartment
  • Challenge of repeat pregnancy
  • Parenting youth’s partner’s related problems:
    • intimate partner violence
    • collection of child support.

Lack of Childcare-A Barrier to Employment and Education:

  • The vast majority of children are living with their mothers.
  • Roughly 1 in 3 young women in THP are a custodial parent.
  • Lack of child care is a barrier to employment and education.
  • Almost none are able to access child care due to the high level of demand among low-income families in the community.
  • Infant supplements are unevenly administered.
    • All custodial parents placed in THP are eligible for a $411 infant supplement. However, interviews with providers and counties revealed that the infant supplement is administered differently across the state.
    • Some providers keep the infant supplement, with the rationale that custodial parents require a lower staffing ratio and larger units. Other providers pass the full $411 through to the parenting youth.


How Does THP PLUS Participation affect Foster Youth College Enrollment?

According to the latest report, only 1 in 5 participants are enrolled in college.

  • While staying in housing, participants make gains in employment and earnings, but struggle with enrolling or remaining in post-secondary education.
  • At the entry of THP Plus, 72 percent had graduated from high school or had earned their General Equivalency Degree (GED).
  • A total of 21 percent of youth were enrolled in community college. However, at the exit, just 22 percent were still enrolled in post-secondary education.
  • In 2014, the California State Legislature changed the eligibility criteria for THP-Plus, allowing a youth who is enrolled in school to stay in the housing program for 36 months instead of 24 months (Senate Bill 1252).

Challenges in Pursuing and Completing an Education:

Lack of preparation for college-level course work and youths’ preference to work affects college completion. Among all students with disabilities, students in foster care had by far the highest rate of emotional disturbance, which is a disability associated with difficulty maintaining relationships, inappropriate behaviors, and depression. These students were affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and intellectual disabilities. The largest disability classification for students in foster care was specific learning disability (39 percent), an impairment associated with challenges related to thinking, reading, writing and/or calculating. Students in foster care were also about half as likely to be classified with a speech or language impairment or autism as the comparison groups.


  • Many youth exiting THP-Plus have special needs.
  • Of youth who exited THP-Plus in 2014-15, 22 percent were identified by their THP-Plus provider as having a special need, defined by the program as a serious physical or mental disability such as a mental illness, intellectual disability, cognitive impairment, or chronic health issue.
  • As of July 1, 2014, 17 percent of THP-Plus participants reported that they did not have health insurance, despite their eligibility for Medi-Cal to age 26 under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Foster Youth and Mental Health Needs: How does Emancipation affect care?

Providers and counties are challenged to provide youth with mental health needs.

The inability to provide therapeutic services required to safely house youth with serious mental illness prevented many youth from being placed into housing programs.

When Affordable Housing and Mental Health Services End

At age 21, specialized mental health services for children end. In a survey of county representatives, this challenge was identified as the greatest area of concern.

What’s Being Done to Support Transition into Self Sufficiency:

Students exiting the foster care system are in critical need of academic coaching, financial aid counseling and pathways to career and technical education programs. A greater effort is needed to prevent first and repeat pregnancies for young emancipated foster mothers. Providers and counties must deepen knowledge and capacity to help youth secure permanent, affordable housing post-program. The findings in this report serve as new evidence for policymakers to use in continuing efforts to improve the academic success of students in foster care. Building the knowledge and organizational capacity to help youth transitioning from both programs in accessing affordable housing will ensure that parenting youth and youth with disabilities have the long-term housing support that they often require.

Love and Support from caring volunteers are greatly needed. If you have a little time to spare and a big heart, consider giving an hour of your time weekly to organizations like School on Wheels, where volunteers meet with foster youths to help them with their homework. There are also organizations like, CASA, For many abused children, CASA volunteers are the one constant adult presence in their lives.

A Word From Social Workers:

“Remarkably, some of these same students ‘make it’ anyway. They do well in school, graduate and head off to college. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from someone who was in the foster-care system and, despite all the challenges, went on to earn a college degree and get a good job. Just imagine how much more often this would happen if all of our systems—whether in education or child welfare—worked together to understand and address the unique needs of these students.” — School Social Worker

More Mexican Immigrants are Leaving the US than Are Coming In

From 2009 to 2014, 1 million Mexicans and their families (including U.S.-born children) left the U.S. for Mexico, according to the latest data from the Pew Research Report by Ana Gonzalez-Barrera of the Pew Research Center. The report captures trends in recent migration flows between Mexico and the United States. One of the most interesting findings is evidence collected that explains why Mexican immigrants are leaving the US and returning to their home country.

These new findings are based on Pew Research Center estimates using U.S. Census Bureau surveys to measure inflow of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. and the National Survey on Demographic Dynamics (ENADID) from Mexico’s chief statistical agency (INEGI), which measures the number of Mexican immigrants who have moved back to Mexico after living in the U.S. between 2009 and 2014.

Net Migration from Mexico

The Decline in the flow of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. is due to several reasons, including:

  1. The slow recovery of the U.S. economy
  2. Stricter enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  3.  Increased enforcement in the U.S. has led to an increase in the number of Mexican immigrants who have been deported from the U.S. since 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2014.


Mexican Unauthorized Immigration Population Declines


Leaving of Their Own Accord

A majority of the 1 million who left the U.S. for Mexico between 2009 and 2014 left of their own accord, according to the Mexican National Survey of Demographic Dynamics (ENADID).

  1. Reuniting With Family Primary Reason for Return Migration to Mexico

From 2009 to 2014, 1 million Mexicans and their families (including U.S.-born children) left the U.S. to move to Mexico.

  1. 61% of Mexicans who in 2009 were living in the U.S. and by 2014 returned to Mexico said they had moved back either to reunite with family or to start a family.
  2. 14% said they had been deported from the U.S.,
  3. 6% gave employment reasons (either to look for a job or because they found a job in Mexico).
  4. Lack of work in the U.S. was a more important reason for the 180,000 return migrants who lived in Mexico in 2009, left for the U.S. after that, and came back to Mexico between 2009 and 2014.
  5. 25% of recent returnees said the main reason was their inability to find a job,

Mexicans Views of Life North of the Border:

  1. 48% of adults in Mexico believe life is better in the U.S.
  2. A growing number says it is neither better nor worse than life in Mexico.
  3. 33% of adults in Mexico say those who move to the U.S. lead a life that is equivalent to that in Mexico.
  4. Asked about their willingness to migrate to the U.S., 35% say they would move to the U.S. if they had the opportunity and means to do so.
  5.  20% of adults in Mexico would do so without authorization.

Is Mexico Still the Largest Source of New Immigrants to the U.S.?

Immigration from China and India to the U.S. has increased steadily, while immigration from Mexico has declined sharply.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that China overtook Mexico in 2013 as the leading country for new immigrant.

The net flow from Mexico to the U.S. is now negative, as return migration of Mexican nationals and their children is now higher than migration of Mexicans heading to the U.S.

Who is Returning? Among the 1 million migrants returning to Mexico from the U.S.:

  1. 720,000 who had been residing in the U.S. in 2009 and were living in Mexico in 2014.
  2.  180,000 were recent migrants who were living in Mexico in 2009 but left for the U.S. and came back to Mexico between 2009 and 2014.
  3. 100,000 were children under the age of 5 who had been born in the U.S. and were living in Mexico in 2014.

Number of Undocumented Mexican Immigrants Declines

The drop in the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants reflects tougher enforcement at the southwest border.

  • In 2013, deportations of Mexican immigrants reached a record high of nearly 315,000, an increase of 86% since 2005, when a policy shift made it more likely that Mexican border crossers would get deported, be barred from legal re-entry for a number of years and risk criminal prosecution if entering illegally again in the future.
  •  In 2014, the number of Mexican immigrants apprehended at the southwest border of the U.S. dropped to about 227,000.
  •  In contrast, the number of apprehensions of non-Mexican immigrants, mostly from Central America, reached a peak at close to 253,000. This was the first time on record that Border Patrol apprehended more non-Mexican immigrants than Mexican immigrants at the southwest border.
  • Today, undocumented Mexican immigrants make up a lower share (48%) of the Mexican-born population living in the U.S. compared with their peak in 2007 (54%).

Mexican Immigrants Then and Now


Compared with 1990, Mexican immigrants in 2013 were considerably older (median age of 39 vs. 29), better educated (42% with high school diploma or more vs. 24%) and had been in the U.S. for longer (77% had been in the U.S. for more than a decade, compared with 50%).


Economically, Mexican immigrants both gained and lost ground. While median personal earnings increased about $2,700 since 1990 (in 2013 dollars), the median household income of Mexican immigrants dropped by about $1,700 in the same period. This reflects the effects of the Great Recession in the U.S. and the slow recovery.

Prospect of Life in the US

For those in Mexico, life in the U.S. is not necessarily better. Yet half of all adults in Mexico think those who have moved to the U.S. lead better lives than those left behind. An increasing number (33%) says life is neither better nor worse in the U.S. Only 14% of Mexicans believe life in the U.S. is worse than in Mexico for those who migrate.

Follow the link for the complete report. Pew Research Center, November, 2015, “More Mexicans Leaving Than Coming to the US.” Washington, D.C.: November.




Invisible Children-What Happens to the Children of Detainees?

I visit undocumented mothers in detention. During my conversations with them-One constant worry is shared, the welfare of their children while they are detained. It is difficult to parent children from jail. Incarceration makes it nearly impossible, and the charge to make a phone call to check on the family, makes it just about prohibitive.

Continue reading “Invisible Children-What Happens to the Children of Detainees?”

Women in America: A Socio-Economic Statistical Portrait

The Council on Women and Girls, was created by an Executive Order signed by President Obama in 2009. Its mission is to promote women and girls’ specific needs when developing federal policies, programs and legislation. The council was inspired by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s views on the role of government regarding women,

In our government responsibilities regarding women [should]not the job of any one agency. It’s the job of all of them.”

Continue reading “Women in America: A Socio-Economic Statistical Portrait”

Life Lessons I Learned from Jail Visitations


pope francis

On September 27, 2015, Pope Francis took time out of his 6-day, super-packed trip to meet with inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. His gentle disposition and touching message inspired me profoundly. Pope Francis told the inmates that he was visiting them “as a brother, to share with them, and to make their cases his own.” When it comes to the human experience, he told them, “all of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from. May the knowledge of that fact inspire us to live in solidarity.”

Continue reading “Life Lessons I Learned from Jail Visitations”