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Description & A timeline summary of Juan Martinez

Elementary schooling in Mexico, called Primeria, can be quite equivalent to the American view of elementary school – with Parent/Open House days, celebrations for national holidays, even performing school plays in English to broaden cultural understanding and to practice English speaking skills. (To learn more about school life in Mexico, from the eyes of its children, visit this website http://www.inside-mexico.com/queonda1.htm) However, school life for the children of migrant farm workers can be quite difficult. A child can be in three to four schools in one year’s time. Also, several weeks can be lost due to the time needed to make each move.

Juan’s parents have always desired the best possible education for their children, realizing that education is the key to financial success and stability. Although Juan was not old enough to receive formal public education in Mexico (he came to the U.S. when he was three years old), he was read to by his grandmother and older brother and sisters. Being of a lower economic level, the family owned very few books; especially picture books for preschool age children. However, Juan was read to on a regular basis from an anthology that the family owned. His grandmother also read to the children from the family bible. Both Juan’s parents and grandmother are literate, but on a middle school grade level. He also could say his alphabet and count to 20. All of this informal preschool education took place in the family’s native language of Spanish.

In Mexico, the younger children were exposed to very little English, only overhearing it spoken when they traveled to Mexico City. Juan’s parents spoke only a few words of broken English, words such as hello, good bye, I know farm work. Juan’s grandmother does not speak any English. Juan’s older brother and sister received the most exposure to English, although it was minimal. However, they still did not speak it at home. Juan’s English language competence prior to his family moving to the United States was nonexistent. He rarely heard it spoken, especially compared to his older brother and sisters, who heard it in school occasionally. However, as the timeline shows, Juan caught on very quickly.

--For an analysis of migrant youth, visit http://www.ericfacility.net/ericdigests/ed405158.html
--For a look at how the U.S. education system is trying to increase educational opportunities for migrant school age children through the use of technology, visit

A timeline summary of Juan Martinez

Date of arrival: age – 3 years old
Upon arrival, Juan did not have any BICS or CALP in his new language, English. Not having any exposure to English in the home could be a disadvantage to someone entering the United States. However, due to Juan’s young age at their family’s time of arrival, he was the perfect age to soon enter preschool. And due to the Headstart program in their area, the family was afforded an educational opportunity that they could not otherwise afford in Mexico.

3 months after arrival: age – 3 years and 3 months old
Having been in the U.S. such a small amount of time and due to the young age of Juan, his CALP was still nonexistent. However, his BICS was beginning to develop, seen through the use of English – such as, “hello,” “bye-bye,” “I love you” and the names of animals.

1 year after arrival: age – 4 years old
Juan was admitted into a pre-K for 4 year olds program at a local private preschool, in cooperation with the Headstart program. His exposure to American television and to his older brothers and sisters going to American schools had greatly increased his casual use of English. He knew his colors, numbers, shapes and alphabet in English. He was very good at singing with popular animated television shows and movies in English. He was able to understand his teachers in English through concentration on his part and a little reinforcement of instructions from them. However, he experienced a lengthy silent period as he adjusted to preschool life. Although he understood instructions in the classroom, he did not verbalize his CALP abilities. Even though, Juan’s parents (especially his father) still moved around to follow agricultural work, the children were now able to remain in one place with the grandmother serving as guardian in the parents’ absences.

2 years after arrival: age – 5 years old
Upon entering Pre-K for 5 year olds, Juan emerged from his shell and began to engage his teachers and classmates socially. Although his grammar was still weak, he entered the phase of being able to verbalize his understanding of his teachers’ instructions with minimal effort. He became very chatty and imaginative, sometimes to the point of speaking out of turn.

3 years after arrival (present): age – 6 years old
Upon entering formal Kindergarten at a public school, Juan is comfortable with academics. He tries hard and excels because he had the support of his family, especially his parents. Although his speech is beginning to approach that of other native speaking six year olds, Juan still has not achieved the syntax of his classmates. He is currently in a classroom where the teacher is not trained to work with ELL students. He often still uses nouns and pronouns for the same word as one – ex/ “the boy he plays,” or “the cat it sleeps.” He writes very well and enjoys reading very much. His BICS and CALP levels are leveling out, showing his grasp of the English language in social as well as academic situations. The family now makes use of the public library, reading books in English as well as in Spanish. Although the rest of the family has embraced English as a second language in their home, the grandmother has politely declined to formally learn to speak English – even though she has learned to understand it. She still reads to the children in Spanish. The family tries to maintain their cultural identity by attending a bilingual church where services are conducted in a mix of English and Spanish. Juan’s early entry into the U.S. educational system, combined with his family’s support of academic achievement, are currently showing Juan to be a very intelligent student. His interest in science and math surpass that of classmates his age. He also grasps new concepts quickly and eagerly.


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