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Education program key to help migrants assimilate

AP - NEW OXFORD, Pa. -- Uprooted from his native Mexico and overwhelmed by an unfamiliar language, Jorge Lua-Ildefonso was miserable on his first day of school in the United States just five years ago. He wasn't sure he would make it beyond his first week in eighth grade.

"I felt fear because it was my first time," said Mr. Lua-Ildefonso, now 18. "It was terrible. I couldn't understand what I was supposed to do, what they were saying."

He overcame the language barrier and graduated from high school this month, thanks to a program that helps to educate the children of migrant workers, who frequently cross school district boundaries and state lines in search of seasonal work in the agriculture, dairy, fishing and food processing industries.

Mr. Lua-Ildefonso and 161 other migrant students successfully completed their schooling this year in Pennsylvania after receiving extra instruction through the nation's migrant education program, established more than 40 years ago amid President Lyndon B. Johnson's efforts to combat poverty.

Educators say the stories of students like Mr. Lua-Ildefonso show how motivated many young Hispanics, Asians and other foreigners are to assimilate and follow the path of immigrants before them.

The migrant education program, serving hundreds of thousands of children, gives students an equal opportunity for success in college and the workplace -- enabling them to build on the work their parents began when they traveled hundreds or thousands of miles from home in search of better lives, educators say.

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