Queen Creek Education Program Has Taught Migrant Workers English For 20 Years

By Casey Kuhn
Published: Monday, September 19, 2016 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, September 19, 2016 - 9:51am
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(Photo by Stephanie Ingersoll - Queen Creek Unified School District)
Program Director Maria Silva and Director of Instruction Miguel Garcia.
(Photo by Casey Kuhn - KJZZ)
A painting done by a former student.

The town of Queen Creek straddles the border of Maricopa and Pinal counties, and is surrounded by farms. The local school district has a program aimed at teaching English to the migrant workers in those farms.

Fifteen students introduce themselves in a packed classroom where a former student of the English-language learner program teaches the intermediate evening class.

This year, 175 students are going through Queen Creek Unified School District’s free adult and migrant education program. Every class is full.

Program Director Maria Silva came in 20 years ago.

“I used to be in business, I used to be a banker,” she said, laughing.

She scoffs at her past because now she's deeply invested in teaching migrant workers who want to learn English.

“These people come from work, some of them go like this," she said, wiping her forearms like she's brushing off dirt, "[and] clean them up, because they’re right out of the field. But they take pride and they have a great interest of learning the language.”

Citrus worker Jose Gabino Vazquez heard about this program three years ago at a barbershop, and he takes classes in the evening after work while his wife takes classes during the day. He, and most of his classmates, are learning English for the job. He mixes fertilizer chemicals and needs to be able to read the labels to get the mixture right.

Since a lot of the students are hungry after coming out of the fields or getting out of work, the classmates set up a little convenience shop – a tiendita.

The $0.50 candies help pay for scholarships to the school’s GED program.

The program includes schooling for migrant worker’s children, which spans across five East Valley school districts year round.