Although 8-year-old Joaquin Flores has never celebrated Thanksgiving before, he has much to be thankful for this year, he said.
Flores' family stayed longer at the Harney Lane Migrant Center, which typically closes in October, so he could remain in the special program at Live Oak Elementary School.
"I like staying here to study more," Flores said.
Flores celebrated the holiday early Wednesday morning with 20 other students, making paper pilgrim and Indian costumes and pumpkin pudding.
"At first, the students didn't really understand what Thanksgiving was all about," said Martha Sosa, a teacher coordinating two classes at Live Oak.
Sosa explained to the kindergarten through third-grade students the holiday's history including hardships faced by the pilgrims moving to a new country.
"They kind of related with that," she said.
The migrant students, many of whom were born in the United States, move with their parents following agricultural work, sometimes across the state. Some return to Mexico during the winter months to visit relatives.
Several students agreed with Flores, saying they were thankful for their classes at Live Oak.
The school's special program wouldn't have taken shape without the Harney Lane center remaining open almost three months longer because of new legislation, officials said.
The center provides interim housing to farm workers in rural Lodi, on Harney Lane, east of Jack Tone Road.
Lodi Unified School District educators said the longer sojourn should pay off in higher standardized test scores next year in reading and math.
"There's been great improvements in the children," Sosa said.
Many students were achieving below average when Sosa began several months ago. "This is the first time they've had so many days in school."
Before the center extended operations, Lodi Unified's migrant students could miss several months in the classroom depending upon the year-round track they were placed on, officials said.
So Lodi Unified created a special track at Live Oak and Sutherland elementary schools and Morada Middle School, said Christine Malandro, multilingual and multicultural education coordinator.
"The academic progress the children are making is incredible," she said.
About 130 students who live at the Harney Lane center attend the special program. The new track runs from March to December, with a two-week vacation in July.
The district also added a teacher specialist at each school who focuses on reading and math with the classroom teachers, Malandro said.
Some parents have taken notice of the improvements in the program, Malandro said.
"Parents can see their children are learning and are being challenged," she said.
Lodi Unified's program is a collaboration with San Joaquin County's migrant education program.
The district has one of the largest migrant student populations in the county with 2,600 students, said Olivia Sosa, the county's assistant director of migrant education.
About half of the students enrolled in Lodi Unified's program have left for Mexico or other parts of California in the last few weeks, officials said.
"It's been a great experience," Michelle Ramos, one of the Live Oak teachers. "I wish more students could have stayed."
The handful of students have one more week of class. They'll return to school in late March. The Harney Lane center closes Dec. 15.
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