Children and Youth

Community member advocates for migrant students

Julio Salazar trains parents on how the school system works.
Parents gathered for a workshop by Julio Salazar. Photo provided.
Parents gathered for a workshop by Julio Salazar. Photo provided.
Julio speaking to parents during a workshop. Photo provided.
Julio speaking to parents during a workshop. Photo provided.

When Julio Salazar attended a Southside Elementary School migrant program parent meeting, he observed mistreatment toward the parents such as being dismissed and belittled. With no knowledge of the school system, he decided to be more involved and formed the Migrant Advisory Committee in the 2008-09 school year. 

As Salazar familiarized himself with the school system, he began advocating for the rights of students to receive an education, which he had been doing as a member of the League of United Latin Americans Citizens (LULAC).

“Aquí puedes hacer mucho por la comunidad, principalmente por los estudiantes,” Salazar said. (Here you can do a lot for the community, especially for the students.)

When his son moved on to San Benito High School, Salazar did too. Being a bigger school, he expected at least 400 parents to attend a school board meeting. To his dismay, only 12 showed up.

As he questioned how money was being spent, he said he ran into more and more obstacles and felt the system was failing. Determined to find solutions, he dug deeper.

Salazar’s passion for education and student rights resulted in his election as president of the Parent Advisory Council (PAC) for the high school’s migrant program, once in 2010 and again in 2014. His effort to get more parents involved led to increased meeting attendance. In his first year as president, 160 parents attended meetings.

“Te das cuenta que hay necesidad de educar a los padres. De traerles talleres educativos para ellos,” Salazar said. (You realize there is need of educating parents. Of providing educational workshops.)

Leticia Soto is one parent who attended the meetings during Salazar’s time as PAC president. She said Salazar understood that in order to help student achievement, parents need to understand their rights.

“El tiene muchas ganas de ayudar, de mejorar al pueblo,” Soto said. “El no piensa en él, piensa más en los papas de todos los niños.” (He wants to help and wants to make the town better. He doesn’t think about himself. He thinks about the parents more.)

She added that Salazar was a great leader who motivated parents to get involved in their children’s education. 

In addition to increased parental participation, the program began offering tutoring for struggling students, which led to higher graduation rates for migrant program students.

According to the California Department of Education, the program’s graduation rate has remained constant in the low 90s over the last 10 years. The graduation rate peaked in Salazar’s last year as PAC president in the 2015-16 school year with 97.2% of migrant program students graduating. The lowest rate of graduating migrant students—88.7%—was during the 2010-11 school year when Salazar first started.

“En las materias que hay necesidad tienes que buscarle la ayuda,” Salazar said. “El presupuesto existe. El dinero existe. Solo tienes que saberlo utilizar.” (You need to look to help them in whatever subject there is need. The budget exists. The money exists. You just need to know how to use it.)

Following his work as PAC president, Salazar served as the Region One president and state representative for the Santa Clara County Office of Education Migrant Education Program starting in the 2015-16 school year. After two years in the position, he stepped down to serve as officer support for the president. Region One includes 34 school districts across the counties of San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Mateo and Alameda.

The Migrant Education Program is federally funded and authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. According to the act, the program serves five purposes:

  1. To assist states in supporting high-quality, comprehensive educational programs and services during the school year, as well as during summer or intersession periods when applicable.
  2. To ensure migrant children who move among the states are not penalized by disparities among the differences in curriculum, graduation requirements and state academic standards.
  3. To ensure that migrant children receive full, appropriate opportunities to meet the same state academic standards that all children are expected to meet.
  4. To help migrant children overcome educational disruption, cultural and language barriers, social isolation, various health-related problems, and other factors that inhibit the ability to succeed.
  5. To help migrant children benefit from state and local systemic reforms.

Through the migrant program, Salazar attended workshops on training parents how to support their children in school. 

“Mi meta es educar algunos tres o cuatro padres sobre entender el sistema,” Salazar said. “Por que si no entiendes el sistema tu vas y te peleas con la escuela.”

(My goal is to educate three or four parents about the school system. Because if you don’t understand the system, you will fight with the school.)

After training the first group of parents, Salazar said he hopes those parents go on to each train another group of parents, and so on. He said it’s important to know the system so that parents keep school districts accountable with protocols, stay informed on issues and ensure students are not being segregated.

All the responsibility doesn’t fall on the schools, he said, it’s the parent’s responsibility to teach their kids appropriate behavior at school. 

“El padre es el primer maestro de sus hijos,” Salazar said. “Aquí es donde se educa. En la casa los hijos tienen que salir educados. La escuela te da la herramienta para sobresalir.” (The parents are the first teachers. Here is where they are educated. They need to come out educated from home. The school is what gives you the tools to excel.)

While Salazar has gained tools through training, he said the most important tool for parents is the support and attention they can provide for their children. 

LULAC Young Adults Vice President Andres Rodriguez, 26, said Salazar was always stepping up when it came to supporting the youth members in the community. He said Salazar is the first to volunteer as chaperone when the youth want to attend something.

“What makes him special is that he is trustworthy, he is reliable,” Rodriguez said. “And for middle and high school students that means a lot because they don’t have that in their own lives.”

Gaining the trust of youth is something that can take time and hard work. About seven years ago, there was a mother who kept insisting that Salazar speak with her younger daughter, who was having behavioral problems in middle school. Despite Salazar’s plea for the parents to sit with her and discuss what was happening, the mother insisted he needed to talk to her. 

Giving in, Salazar began socializing with the daughter and gained her trust. One day, he invited her family out to eat hamburgers. With the mother waiting outside with Salazar’s wife, he had a three-hour heart-to-heart talk with the daughter. During the discussion, Salazar realized she was acting out to attract attention from her parents who had put their focus on their older daughter, who was preparing to attend college. 

“La niña estaba afectada de que la estas haciendo a un lado,” Salazar told the mother. “Le estas dando toda la atención a su hermana y estás olvidándote de ella.” (The girl is affected by being put aside. You are giving her sister all the attention and are forgetting about her.)

Salazar asked the parents to take responsibility for their actions and spend more time with the younger daughter. Though she was expelled from school that year, Salazar said she changed her behavior as she and her parents worked on their relationship and she eventually graduated high school. 

“Cada logro de ellos es logro para uno,” Salazar said. (Each achievement for them is an achievement for me.)



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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.