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Tijuana’s cross-border students lead a class for California’s education chief

Angel Isaac, 12, shares his experience at Jose M. Larroque Elementary School with Principal Ivan Lozano Diaz, left, California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Baja California Secretary of Education Miguel Angel Mendoza.
Angel Isaac, 12, shares his experience at Jose M. Larroque Elementary School with Principal Ivan Lozano Diaz, left, California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Baja California Secretary of Education Miguel Angel Mendoza.
(Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

On Friday morning at Tijuana’s José M. Larroque Elementary School, Tom Torlakson was the eagerest of students.

California’s state superintendent of public instruction had come to Baja California to learn about the hurdles facing those who make the switch between U.S. and Mexican schools. And seated before him in the school’s small library was a group of seasoned experts.

“The challenge every day is to speak Spanish,” said Marco Antonio Arellano Hernández, 12, who recently moved from Las Vegas to Tijuana and is enrolled in sixth grade at the public elementary school on a hillside near downtown. “The teachers helped us a lot.”

Torlakson and Baja California’s secretary of education, Miguel Angel Mendoza, said their two systems are exploring ways to better address the needs of the students they share — perhaps by making it easier to transfer academic records, expanding binational teacher training programs or increasing the number of exchanges between Mexico and California to promote bilingual education.

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“We’re searching for how we can help each other help those students,” Torlakson said. “How do we place them in the right academic setting so they don’t feel frustrated and lost or behind?”

The visit was organized by the California Assn. for Bilingual Education, a nonprofit that advocates for bilingual programs and students learning English.

Out of some 682,000 Baja California students enrolled in preschool through ninth grade, about 53,000 were born in the United States. Many have come from California and moved to Tijuana for a variety of reasons — in some cases because their parents were deported.

Wearing white shirts, sweaters with the school logotype and navy blue slacks or skirts, those in the library looked like typical Tijuana public school students. Yet most spoke English.

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Julian Mares Barbosa, 9, said he was born “on the other side” — in Long Beach — but has been living in Mexico since kindergarten. “My dad can’t cross. That’s why I’m here,” he said.

California has an estimated 300,000 students who are in the U.S. illegally, according to the state Department of Education, and another 1 million live with a parent or guardian who is in the country illegally.

“I expect deportation to ramp up,” Torlakson said. President Trump’s approach “unfortunately has been increasing tension with Mexico,” he said at a news conference at the Tijuana offices of the Baja California Public Education Secretariat. “I think that’s wrong, counterproductive.”

Mendoza said his system’s relationship with California schools dates back two decades. Today it includes teacher training programs and collaboration with institutions such as UCLA and San Diego State.

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“We needed to meet, to witness what is currently in place,” Mendoza said of the California superintendent’s visit. “We want to double, triple, quadruple these efforts.”

sandra.dibble@sduniontribune.com

Dibble writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune


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