Program for Migrant Students Changed Her Life

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This story is part of a series of profiles the Ventura County Office of Education is presenting about graduating seniors in the Class of 2024.

Marlen-crIn March, Marlen Oviedo stood in front of a panel of judges and presented a speech on a topic that had just been given to her, with no time to prepare. She gave her speech in English, a language she had only started learning three years earlier. She went home with the first-place prize.

Marlen was participating in the annual Speech and Debate Tournament for students in the Migrant Education Program operated by the Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE). The program provides extra support and resources for children of migrant farm workers, who musc24w-v2t often move frequently to follow the harvest.

Marlen did so well in the local tournament that she was selected to advance to the state competition in Monterey, where she won the Excellence in Speech & Debate Leadership Award. It’s an impressive achievement for a student who came to Channel Islands High School from Honduras in the middle of 9th grade not speaking a word of English.

And the language barrier isn’t the only one Marlen has had to overcome. Her parents are not currently part of her life, so she stays in a room at a friend’s house and pays rent by working for the family’s small business selling food.

“She's been handed some of the worst obstacles a person can see,” said English teacher Monica Adrian, who served as Marlen’s coach in the tournament. “She looks at those challenges and turns them into opportunities and doesn't let them define her.”

Marlen Oviedo and her fellow participants in the Migrant Education Program Speech & Debate Tournament being honored by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors at the County Government Center on April 9, 2024 

Marlen says participating in the tournament helped her build new friendships and learn skills she’ll put to good use. “Talking in public was something I always hated, and it helped me get over my fears. I was really nervous, but I still did it.”

After high school, Marlen plans to attend Oxnard College and pursue a career as a dietitian. “What impresses me so much about her is her strength and her determination,” said Channel Islands High School Principal Marianne Ramos. “Regardless of what has happened to this amazing young lady, she not only continues to persevere, but she truly does triumph over everything. And she does it with a gracious heart and a smile. I've met a ton of students in my 25 years and she is by far one of the strongest I've ever had the honor of serving.”

You can learn more about the VCOE Migrant Education Program at

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