Immigrants get help adjusting to American schools

Sunday, January 20, 2002

BEARDSTOWN, Ill. -- Julio Flores knocked on the door of a trailer, and a sleepy-looking Mexican man with disheveled black hair opened it, looking as if he had just awakened.

Inside, blankets and a pillow on the sofa revealed that the man indeed had been napping.

"Que tal?"

Flores made his Spanish greeting in a warm tone of voice, then quickly brought up the business he had come to talk about; two of the man's teen-age children had been skipping school again. The father grew upset, his voice rising as he discussed his children with Flores.

"He's suffering," Flores said later of the father. "They are in a small space with the kids, but they are in a different life. The father and mother are going in one direction. The kids are going in a different direction."

Such home visits are a big part of Flores' job. The native of El Salvador was hired in 1998 as a liaison between the Beardstown public schools and the Mexican immigrant families whose children make up a fourth of the student enrollment. He visits the homes of pupils who have been truant or who face disciplinary action. He recruits and enrolls children of newly arrived immigrant or migrant-laborer families and he provides parents with basic information about immunization and school rules.

"This is a typical family living in the United States in really bad conditions," Flores said later.

Both of the children in question are repeating seventh grade, and Flores suspects they are just biding their time until they turn 16 and can drop out legally.

The family is part of a growing population of Mexican immigrants who have moved to Beardstown in recent years to work at the Excel Corp. meatpacking plant. The immigrants come here in search of a better life.

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