Meeting the Educational Needs of Migrant Students
The children of migrant farm laborers in the United States face numerous educational challenges because of frequent moves and economic hardship. Education World examines the special needs of migrant schoolchildren and tells how one school met those needs. Included: An extensive list of resources about the nation's migrant farmworkers.
Migrant farmworkers are "the most undereducated major subgroup in the country," wrote Katherine Milton and Jack E. Watson in the paper Distance Education for Mexican-American Migrant Farmworkers prepared at Arizona State University in spring 1997.
Milton and Watson concluded that "distance learning programs that move with the students and which allow them to access their coursework from anywhere they live could provide the greatest potential for academic success."
"The most significant and unique challenge faced by migrant students is mobility-induced educational discontinuity," Ann Cranston-Gingras, associate professor of special education and director of the Center for the Study of Migrant Education
at the University of South Florida, told Education World. Cranston-Gingras has studied the needs of students who are migrant farmworkers or the children of farmworkers who travel to find work harvesting crops.
Cranston-Gingras also told Education World that the "cumulative effects of several years of this lifestyle can be devastating from an educational and emotional standpoint."
CHALLENGES OF MIGRANT EDUCATION
Migrant children miss school when their families move from one work site to another. In addition, economic necessity often forces migrant students, particularly teens, to work instead of attend school.
"One of the most significant causes of low educational achievement is the fact that juvenile farmworkers simply spend too much time on the job," says Fingers to the Bone: United States Failure to Protect Child Farmworkers, a paper issued by Human Rights Watch in June 2000. The paper cites a 1992 Department of Agriculture study that "found that, nationally, approximately 37 percent of adolescent farmworkers work full time."
Even if not working in the fields, "teenagers are often put in charge of their younger siblings," according to Youth Employment in Agriculture.
And not all working students are adolescents. In Voices from the Field: Interviews With Students from Migrant Farmworker Families, researchers Yolanda G. Martinez, John Scott Jr., Ann Cranston-Gingras, and John S. Platt reported that "75 percent of the students interviewed had work experience and that age was not a determining factor. Despite legislation to keep children out of the fields, children as young as six years of age are still working in the fields."
Whether working in the fields or caring for younger siblings, "children as young as ten years old can make a significant contribution to their family's income by working rather than attending school," noted Anneka L. Kindler of the National Clearinghouse of Bilingual Education.
The research behind Voices from the Field also revealed that migrant children "report frequently missing school for reasons other than for illness. Absence from school to assist parents in translating or otherwise negotiating the system presents an important and addressable barrier to academic achievement."
FALLING BEHIND AND DROPPING OUT
How Many Schoolchildren Migrate?
The transient nature of migrant farm life makes documenting the number of schoolchildren who are affected by the lifestyle very difficult. Click here for statistics.
Frequent moves and frequent absences mean that migrant students often fall behind academically. "Because of their mobile lifestyle, migrant students often start school late and leave early," Cranston-Gingras told Education World. "Often, they are retained in one or more grades and fall behind their age peers."
"Economic hardships as well as educational gaps place migrant children at risk to drop out of school before graduation," say Martinez and colleagues in Voices from the Field. The paper Fingers to the Bone reports that "all of the juvenile farmworkers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had dropped out of school or been held back at least one time. Nationally, the dropout rate for farmworker youth is 45 percent."
ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES: ONE SCHOOL'S STORY
The San Jose School (La Escuela de San Jose) was established to address the main challenges to educating migrant schoolchildren, said Sister Gaye Moorhead, RSM, the director of the school and of the Mercy Migrant Education Ministry. She sees the following challenges:
"The challenges [of migrant education] begin with mobility," Moorhead told Education World. The logical response? The San Jose School moves along with families as they travel between Ohio and Florida following the crops. "To our knowledge, we're the only mobile school in the country," Moorhead told Education World. The school serves students in kindergarten through third grade.
San Jose School is run by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. When planning the Mercy Migrant Education Ministry, Moorhead told Education World, "research showed a somewhat stable pattern of migration between Florida and Ohio. We connected with Catholic facilities in the north and the south." So, for San Jose students, the school year begins in late August at St. Joseph Elementary School in Fremont, Ohio, and then moves to the St. Clement Religious Education Building in Plant City, Florida.
When students start the school year at one school and then move to another, they find "new textbooks, a whole new scenario," Moorhead said. To overcome this discontinuity, San Jose School personnel -- even the bus driver -- move along with the students.
The school's mobility also prevents San Jose students from missing school altogether. Some migrant families may not send their children to the first few weeks of school in Ohio because they'll soon be leaving that school anyway, Sister Michele Schroeck, San Jose's education coordinator, told Education World. "When they arrive in Florida [where the school year begins earlier than in Ohio], they have missed almost a month of school."
The Language Barrier
Moorhead identified the language barrier as a second major challenge of working with migrant students. "Most start kindergarten speaking Spanish only," she said. All academic instruction at San Jose School is in English, although teachers will use some Spanish when explaining directions to students.
Small class sizes of 12 to 15 students help meet the challenge of limited English proficiency, Schroeck told Education World. She said that the program also has several volunteers, mostly from the Florida community, who work one-on-one with students.
A third concern for educators of migrant students is "the challenges that poverty places on children trying to learn," Moorhead said. "They may live in substandard housing, they don't have the same clothes or book bags, they may look different" from other children at school.
Schroeck told Education World migrant children may have health-related problems resulting from poverty. Migrant families "may have less money for food when work is light," she explained. To help meet students' nutritional needs, the program offers a morning snack and a hot lunch (supplied through a government program).
Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
All of those challenges lead to a lack of self-confidence, which Moorhead told Education World is "the biggest challenge" of migrant-education programs. The greatest benefit of San Jose School for its students, Schroeck told Education World, is that it "gives children the confidence and support they need to try and to learn."
The San Jose School has demonstrated that its mobile approach works. "Academically, about 66 to 75 percent of our students end up on grade level in reading and math," Schroeck told Education World. That's a higher rate than in local public schools, which typically exhibit about 50 percent of migrant students' performing at grade level, she said.
Despite the school's success, "we won't be able to continue our ministry after this year," Moorhead told Education World. She cited three reasons for this decision:
- the inability, despite a national advertising campaign, to find mobile staff members to move with the school;
- a shift in the migration pattern -- fewer migrant families are now working in Ohio;
- a lack of long-term corporate funding.
"We're very encouraged by our host schools' desire to absorb our students and staff until we can start a new school," Moorhead said. The new school will not be mobile, she said, but it will retain the other characteristics that have made San Jose School successful: an outreach program to help families connect with needed services, the provision of transportation, and a welcoming presence that includes bilingual components to encourage parents' involvement with their children's school.
ADDITIONAL MIGRANT EDUCATION RESOURCES
Another Education World Article About Educating Migrant Schoolchildren
Frequent moves and economic hardship create numerous educational challenges for the children of migrant farmworkers in the United States. Even the most conservative estimates project that more than half a million schoolchildren move with their families following seasonal crops each year. Technology can help these students. Read how three programs have successfully used technology to help migrant schoolchildren and their families in the Education World article Using Technology to Meet the Challenges of Educating Migrant Students.
- University of Texas Distance Education Center: Migrant Student Program This program offers courses approved by the Texas Education Agency that count toward graduation.
- Geneseo Migrant Center Geneseo Migrant Center of Mount Morris, New York, offers services in areas such as health and education for migrant workers and their families in New York state.
- Migrant Education: Guide to Program Services in California California's Migrant Education Program offers support services to students of migrant workers in the agricultural, dairy, fishing, and logging industries.
- Selected Readings from CHIME: Effective School/Family Interventions for Migrant Students This is a listing of articles that can be ordered from CHIME, the Clearinghouse for Immigrant Education.
- Colorado Migrant Education Program The Colorado Department of Education's Office of Migrant Education offers support programs and services for children of migrant workers in the agricultural, fishing, and timber industries.
- Instructional Strategies for Migrant Students This ERIC Digest by Velma Menchaca and Jose Ruiz-Escalante provides instructional strategies for teachers of migrant students. The site includes an extensive bibliography.
- Office of Migrant Education The site of the Office of Migrant Education, a division of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, contains information about programs, grants, and publications about migrant education.
- Special Education Migrant Education Graduate Fellowship The State University of New York at New Paltz offers a migrant/special education graduate program to train educators to work with migrant students with disabilities and their families. The training program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Washington State Migrant Student Education Program Migrant Student Records System This database is designed to allow easy transfer of and access to education and health records of migrant students.
- Wave of New Students Rolls In This newspaper article describes how schools in the tri-city area of Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland in southeastern Washington, have taken steps to accommodate migrant students.
- Links to Migrant Programs, Education and Beyond This Web page provides an extensive listing of information about migrant education in the United States.
- Programs in the Office of Migrant Education This page from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Migrant Education lists projects currently funded by the department's technology grants. The site includes contact information for project directors.
- Migrant Student Education-Research This page on PENpages, from the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State University, summarizes an ERIC Digest report about family lives and parental involvement in migrant students' education.
- Oregon's Migrant Education Service Center The Migrant Education Service Center assists school districts in Oregon that enroll eligible migrant students.
- Migrant Students Who Leave School Early: Strategies for Retrieval This ERIC Digest (May 1991) by Anne Salerno examines the reasons why migrant students drop out of school and programs aimed at reducing the dropout rate.
- Migrant Education Technology and Curriculum Resources This page contains links to many technology projects geared toward education of migrant students.
- Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Information Exchange This page from the Idaho Department of Labor contains links to resources for migrant families.
- Albemarle Regional Migrant Education Program Albemarle Regional Migrant Education Program is a federally funded program that works to serve migrant students and their families in central Virginia.
- Migrant Education Program This page describes the migrant education program of the Delano Union School District in Delano, California.
- Migrant Education This is the home page of migrant education programs for the state of Washington.
- Pennsylvania Migrant Education: An Overview This page contains information about migrant education in Pennsylvania.
- Migrant Education This page explains the migrant education program of the San Diego County (California) Office of Education.
- Migrant Education, Region 1 This page explains the migrant education program of the Santa Clara County (California) Office of Education.
- List of All U.S. Government Programs Benefiting Students This page explains the federal Migrant Education High School Equivalency Program.
- Migrant Health Program This program, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides grants to community organizations for medical and support services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families.
- National Center for Farmworker Health This private, not-for-profit corporation, located in Austin, Texas, provides services for improving the health of American farmworkers.