Part of the Forum’s special series on migrant education programs.
From NYTimes.com, The New York Times, “A Journey From Field to Classroom” by Patricia Leigh Brown, 12 Mar 2011.
Oscar Ramos spent his childhood adrift, picking lettuce, chilies and walnuts: Portersville to Visalia, Visalia to Delano, Delano to Bakersfield, Bakersfield to Gilroy. In the classroom, his story unfolds as his students complete their “All About Me” biographical posters.
His father came to the United States in the 1960s through the federal “bracero” program that imported Mexican agricultural workers. His mother, Evelia, still works a tomato conveyor belt. She set a high bar for her children.
“She talked to the foreman to make sure the hours we worked were counted accurately,” he said. “She set the goals for the day. Of course, once we reached it, she moved it further.”
He learned English from the son of the labor camp owner. His only exposure to college was the logos on the helmets of the football players he read about in Sports Illustrated. But his guidance counselor saw the promise and threatened to sequester young Oscar in a room until he agreed to apply. “Keep him,” his mother urged.
Since fourth grade, Mr. Ramos has pictured himself a teacher; eventually he chose elementary school because it gave him the best chance to affect young lives. He challenges his students with slides of faraway places — the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China — that are accessible to those with an education.
Budget cuts loom for the district, and they are likely to increase class size and reduce staff. Typically, Mr. Ramos’s other life begins after school, with a whistle around his neck — coaching softball, soccer, flag football, girl’s volleyball. With no budget for sports, Mr. Ramos bought the net, the volleyballs, the uniforms, the softballs, the bats and the end-of-season medals, and he also provided shuttle service for students whose parents do not have cars.
His manner, after 15 years of teaching, is still calm and upbeat. “They expect anger, because they see violence everywhere,” he says. “The way you are is the way the kids are going to be.”