Most schools in the Rio Grande Valley—where Texas meets Mexico, where first world meets third, and where these divisions often blur—struggles with the challenge of educating the children of migrant farm workers.
The children are poor. Most come from homes where only Spanish is spoken. They arrive at school late in the year and leave early, cobbling together an education as their families move from state to state, following work.
Runn Elementary, a preK-5 school that lies south of Donna, Texas, and about a mile from the Mexican border, struggles, too. But it's succeeding where others have failed. In 1994, only two students at Runn passed the state's standardized achievement test. Four years later, 83 percent of the school's 450 students passed all parts of the test, with all but three passing reading, all but one passing writing, and all but six passing math. Runn boasts the highest attendance rate in the 14-school Donna district. And classrooms in the school ring with happy voices, laughter, and excitement for learning.
Parents attribute Runn's turnaround to Ofelia Gaona, who became principal in 1996. Gaona in turn praises her teachersmany of whom grew up in the valleyfor their commitment to the kids. Located near a sugar-cane field, Runn is hardly removed from the hardships of farm worksmoke and pesticide fumes sometimes waft across the schoolyard, and snakes occasionally slither into classrooms. Yet, for its students, the school is an oasisa place to reflect, gather strength, and create a better life.
Vol. 11, Issue 5, Pages 30-35Published in Print: February 1, 2000, as Border Rescue