As Mexican Families Return Home, US-Educated Kids Struggle to Adapt

Lourdes Medrano, Christian Science Monitor, April 23, 2013

Sitting in his first-grade classroom, Iván Leonel Burruel listens intently as his teacher enunciates distinctly each word she writes on the whiteboard. He knows English grammar from his time living in the United States, but now he works hard to master his lessons in Spanish.

Leonel, as he likes to be called, lived in Arizona almost his entire life, but his family is back in Mexico now after his father lost his job. The boy is adjusting to a new way of learning here in the capital of Sonora state in northern Mexico, where familiar US school fixtures like cafeterias or school buses are rare.

Arriving in an unparalleled migration exodus from the US to Mexico, students like Leonel are changing the country’s classrooms and posing new challenges to an education system that experts say is ill equipped to integrate children accustomed to US schools.

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Throughout Mexico, US-born children–and kids born in Mexico but raised north of the border–face multiple barriers to school enrollment and, once in the classroom, many struggle in their new environment. Not only must they deal with different teaching methods that turn the US model of learning on its head, but they also confront a language barrier and cultural divide.

With an eye toward improving academic success and matriculation in Mexico, scholars in Sonora, aided by academic researchers on both sides of the border, recently launched a three-year study on the challenges these youngsters face in the country of their parents.

About 300,000 of the 1.4 million people who returned to Mexico between 2005 and 2010 were US-born children. Their families were either deported or left the country voluntarily after facing job losses and tough immigration laws, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

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Schools across Mexico, including those in Sonora, also have incorporated into the curriculum textbooks that teach about the migrant experience.

Teachers and administrators can attend workshops, seminars, and training courses on multicultural classrooms, although not everyone is eager to participate, says Jesús Eduardo Ramírez Cordoba, who heads international affairs for the SEC, a position created recently, in part to handle transnational educational affairs. The state entity oversees schools in Sonora.

“Some view it as an additional burden,” Mr. Ramírez says.

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The hope is that emerging programs will serve to teach tolerance and respect for diversity, says Mr. Gil from the SEC. Difficulties for these students spill out of the classroom, he adds.

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