ECMHSP Steps on to the Red Carpet

ef4f9c2dd15779f8e4e0f59bcbc280f6On Friday evening, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project was honored to participate in the Immigration Film Festival of Greater Washington, a three-day festival featuring more than twenty films highlighting both the plight and the contributions of recent immigrants to the United States. The festival aims to put faces on immigrants and tell the stories of global immigration through film, the most popular of media.

Last June, we wrote a blog post to celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month in which we debut the short documentary, “Para Los Niños” (For the Children). Filmmakers William Johnston-Carter and Danielle Bryant, of Impact America – Alabama, had submitted this short film to the Immigration Film Festival and it was selected as one of the short films to be presented at this year’s festival.  The film, “Para Los Niños” features Brigido and Laura, farmworker parents who migrate each year for the tomato harvest and whose children attend ECMHSP Head Start centers in Chandler Mountain, Alabama, and Fort Meade, Florida. You can view the short film here.


ECMHSP centers serve the children of farmworkers by providing them with high-quality Head Start services while their parents harvest fruits and vegetables. Photo Credit: William Johnston-Carter

Para Los Niños” was presented along with the full-feature film, “Under the Same Moon.” The film presents a heartwarming family story while also offering subtle commentary on the much-debated issue of illegal immigration. For those who have seen Under the Same Moon, you know there is scene in the movie where farmworkers are harvesting greenhouse tomatoes. It was interesting to reflect at how slow the fictional farmworkers are harvesting tomatoes in the greenhouse in comparison to how fast Brigido and Laura work in the fields of North Alabama.

Following the film presentations, ECMHSP was invited to participate in a panel discussion of the development of “Para Los Niños.” Also participating on the panel was Cecilia Rojas, a Director at Community Ministries of Rockville, a non-profit that serves the most vulnerable residents of Montgomery County, Maryland, and three recent immigrants to the United States from Honduras who had fled the terrible violence in their home country and who have received support from Community Ministries.

ECMHSP is honored to have the opportunity to discuss on the lives of the farmworker families we serve.  Opportunities like this – where we are able raise awareness of the contributions of farmworkers – are important opportunities to take.

Improving Healthcare Service Models for Migrant Families

Mercedes Hernández is the Child and Family Health Manager at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. This is her experience at this year’s East Coast Migrant Stream Forum.

Last week, ECMHSP was invited to participate at the East Coast Migrant Stream Forum. This year’s forum took place on October 13-15, 2016 at the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami, Florida.

Mercedes Hernández, the Child and Family Health Manager at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, poses with presenter Ricardo Garay, Health Network Manager for the Migrant Clinicians Network.

Mercedes Hernández, the Child and Family Health Manager at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, poses with presenter Ricardo Garay, Health Network Manager for the Migrant Clinicians Network.

Begun by North Carolina Community Health Center Association in 1988, the Forum is the oldest annual conference dedicated to improving health outcomes and health care delivery to migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families on the East Coast. It was created for health care providers, outreach workers and front-line staff that are employed by federally-funded Migrant and Community Health Centers.

As the Child and Family Health Manager at ECMHSP, I was invited to facilitate a session with Ricardo Garay, Health Network Manager for the Migrant Clinicians Network. The title of the presentation was, “Clinical Coordination for Patients On the Move: Lessons and Barriers in Establishing Continuity of Care”.

The presentation focused on the Migrant Clinicians Network’s Health Network. The purpose of the Health Network is to eliminate mobility as an obstacle for continuity of health care. For clinics, Health Network provides patient referrals, outcome reports, outreach staff integration, and updated medical records as patients move from one location to another. For patients, Health Network offers culturally appropriate services that promote engagement and health education. They have staff that speak Spanish and Haitian Creole, and they can assist in identifying transportation alternatives, among other things. This model has been very successful in ensuring mobile patients are able to receive complete culturally competent tuberculosis treatment. Now the model is being adapted to support patients with other conditions to ensure they have continuity of care as they move in search of agricultural work.


The session, led by Ricardo Garay of the MCN, discussed the barriers faced when serving a mobile population and the solutions provided by the MCN Health Network.

The migrant farmworker families ECMHSP serves are mobile; live in hard-to-reach rural areas; earn extremely low wages; and work long hours every day. Often times, farmworker families depend on our Head Start centers to provide healthcare services and treatments. I would like to explore the possibility of adapting the model presented by the Migrant Clinicians Network to assist in the transfer of our children’s health information as family’s migrate from state to state following the harvests. We could reduce the rates of over-immunizations, facilitate the enrollment process, and ensure appropriate follow-up to health services.

Our work in strengthening our partnerships and improving our health services continued beyond the workshop. During the conference I was able to connect with farmworker health programs, migrant clinics and university professors who are working with farmworkers and have an interest in strengthening their partnerships with migrant and seasonal Head Start centers. I am looking forward to engaging with these partners to support the health services for the migrant and seasonal farmworker families we serve.

Enhancing Our Work Through Self-Assessment

Preschool teacher Kerry Cormier stands with QA Manager Beth Zinkand and CEO Dr. Jose Villa.

Preschool teacher Kerry Cormier stands with QA Manager Beth Zinkand and CEO Dr. Jose Villa.

Last week, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project completed its administrative self-assessment – the final phase of its annual self-assessment. When the Head Start program was created 50 years ago, the early childhood experts who developed the program understood how difficult it would be to provide high-quality early childhood education in impoverished communities.  For that reason, these experts required all Head Start programs to perform a self-critical analysis each year of the program’s strengths and areas for improvement.  For many of us at ECMHSP, this is one of our favorite tasks as it provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how we can enhance our work.

Kerry Cormier is a preschool teacher at our Migrant Head Start Center in Bailey, North Carolina. She was a valuable contributor to this year’s administrative self-assessment. She shares her experience in this interview.

What is your position at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and how long have you worked here?

My name is Kerry Cormier and I have been a Preschool teacher at the NCDS-Bailey Center for 14 years.

What is the favorite part of your work?

The Children! They bring so much laughter and joy into my life.  I appreciate the professionalism that ECMHSP strives for.  I am an Early Childhood Educator and appreciate that ECMHSP strives to have educators and not babysitters in every classroom of the center.  And, I get paid to play for a majority of the day!  Not very many people can say this about where they work.

What is the least favorite part of your work?

Being short staffed. Getting the down time needed to enter paperwork and make lesson plans often causes teachers to scramble and push up against deadlines.  Teachers really could use an occasional mental break too.  Being in a classroom all day is very exhausting.  Also that our season frequently feels too short.  Just when I feel like we are really rolling it is time for the children to move.  It is wonderful to see them when they return more mature and able to accomplish so much more then the previous season.

How has your work changed while you have been at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?

Over the years Head Start has required all their programs to become more accountable for outcomes. Teachers not only have to understand what they are teaching but why they are teaching it.  East Coast has worked hard to find ways to show accountability through our paperwork processes and classroom procedures.  Just read our Classroom Manual and you can see all the hard work and thought put into how we do our job; it is a wealth of information.

Families are not moving like they used to.  Here in North Carolina we see families settling out or farmers hiring H-2A guest workers—single men— to harvest.   This has caused us to have lower enrollment and to rethink how we recruit families.   This is the first year since I have worked for East Coast that we accepted seasonal families at the beginning of our season.  Happily it filled the classroom.

Strong communication is even more important today than ever before: both at the center level and throughout the whole program.  Without strong communication, important deadlines will be missed.  Children who are falling behind will not be given the tools they need to succeed.  Opportunities to really make a difference in the lives of the families we serve will go by the wayside.  This communication needs to move not only up the ladder but also down so that the teachers and center core staff have the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions that will have positive effects on the program.

Last week, you had the opportunity to participate in ECMHSP’s Administration Self-Assessment, could describe what was involved?

People from all different aspects of ECMHSP were involved; Board Members, Parent Policy Council Members, Corporate Staff, Regional and Center Staff. Over two days we looked at where we were as a program last year and where we saw changes that needed to occur for next year.  There were discussions about our programs strengths and also areas where we needed improvement as a program overall.  As this information was being discussed, it was also being recorded.  At the end of the two days each member of the self-assessment team was able to prioritize what they felt was the most needed changes.  It was by this process that a program improvement plan will be developed so that next year we are a stronger and even more professional program.

What were three things you learned about ECMHSP during the administrative self-assessment?

The people at the top really do care about the teachers and what is happening at the center level.  They are well aware that the centers need support both in planning time and continued education/training.  They are trying diligently to find ways to help all ECMHSP employees and programs not just during those fast and furious pre-service weeks but also throughout our seasons.

If you are not tech savvy, it is time to work on your computer skills. ECMHSP, like many organizations today, is working hard to become paperless.   This means that everyone is going to have to be able to use the computer to enter and access information.  I have a feeling that our Information Technology Manager Andy Pederson and his team of specialists are going to be very busy with people like me!  Sorry, Andy.   It is my hope that every classroom will have a computer that they can use to access Child Plus and

Bus services are a privilege to our families. The requirements to become a bus driver are a huge undertaking! We should be helping our families understand that bus service is for those with a true need and not just a convenience.  Maybe we can encourage shared driving and/or explain why bus stops are at central locations instead of door-to-door pick-up.  And if you know of anybody that might make the cut, contact Charles Leach, our Transportation Manager!  I know that many of our families rely on bus service, but boy, is it difficult to get drivers who meet the federal and state regulations!

What advice do you have for a teacher who is asked to participate in administration self-assessment?

I’d say anyone who wants to understand how East Coast makes decisions and policies should say they are interested in attending.  This was truly an educational experience.  The two days I spent listening, learning, and contributing opened my eyes to the magnitude of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. It reminded me how important our mission is and how grateful I am to have a job with a company that really does care about its employees and the families that we serve.

ECMHSP’s annual self-assessment asks its staff and leadership at various levels to review the successes and the areas of improvement for services.

California’s New Law on Overtime Pay for Farmworkers

Farmworker parents work through our ECMSHP Policy Council to create advocacy tools for the farmworker community, including videos.

Farmworker parents work through our ECMSHP Policy Council to create advocacy tools for the farmworker community, including videos.

In October of 2012, migrant farmworker parents whose children attend an East Coast Migrant Head Start Project center developed a farmworker bills of rights. The farmworker bill of rights included many rights that other workers take for granted, such as the right to work for farmers who did not try to deceive OSHA inspectors and the right to access potable water and restrooms during the workday.  Our parents also identified the right to receive overtime compensation, as well as compensation for all of the hours they worked.  Our parents promoted their farmworker bill of rights in a video available on YouTube.

Farmworkers were excluded from many protections offered by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, including overtime compensation.

Farmworkers were excluded from many protections offered by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, including overtime compensation.

This week California made one of the farmworker rights identified by our parents a reality when Governor Jerry Brown signed a statute requiring farmworkers received overtime compensation. The law means that farmworkers in the state will be treated like employees in other industries, where overtime is paid after a standard eight-hour day as a result of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established a national minimum wage, overtime and the 40-hour work week among work standards.  The Fair Labor Standards Act, however, exempted farmworkers and it is not uncommon for farmworkers to work in excess of 12 hours each day with no additional compensation for their labor.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the United Farm Workers union, which sponsored the California legislation, said it hopes the state’s large agricultural industry will influence other states. “For 78 years, a Jim Crow-era law discriminated against farmworkers by denying us the same overtime rights that other workers benefit from,” said UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez. “Governor Brown corrected a historic wrong and set an example for other states to follow.’”

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project applauds the California legislature and Governor Brown for recognizing the value of the work of farm laborers, who ensure the American people that they have a safe and secure source of fresh produce. We call upon states all across the nation to follow California’s lead and ensure that the workers who feed us are treated with dignity and fairness.


ECMHSP calls on other states to follow California’s lead and implement overtime pay laws for our farmworker families.

OHS Announces New Head Start Program Performance Standards

On September 1, the Office of Head Start published the final updates to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, which describe what is needed to deliver comprehensive, high-quality individualized services to support the school readiness and healthy development of children from low-income families. According to OHS, the new standards announced last week are the first comprehensive revision of the Head Start Program Performance Standards since they were originally published in 1975.  The final rule aims to capitalize on the advancements in research, available data, as well as input from Head Start grantees and the public input in order to accomplish the critical goal of helping Head Start reach its full potential so that more children reach kindergarten ready to succeed. You can view Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell announce the new rules in the video below.

Head Start grantees and other stakeholders were invited to submit comments on the proposed updates Head Start Program Performance Standards in June 2015 through the OHS notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).  ECMHSP wanted to ensure that our farmworker families were informed about these proposed changes and were given the opportunity to provide meaningful input. After all, as many parents pointed out, they know better than anyone what their needs are, and their children are affected the most by these decisions.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

ECMHSP staff presented the proposed changes to the ECMHSP Policy Council –which is comprised of farmworker parents representing all of our service regions and members of the community– during the Summer Policy Council Orientation and Meeting in August 2015.  Parents from the Policy Council had concerns about the proposed rule changes and wanted their comments to be presented to the OHS.  ECMHSP collected thoughtfully-written comments and passionate audio recordings in which parents shared their support for some of the proposed changes, as well as disagreements with other proposed changes and why they thought it might hurt their programs.

One of the proposed changes that caused the most concern with farmworker parents was the removal of the requirement for each Head Start center to have a parent committee.  Parents worried that some centers would choose to eliminate the parent committee and diminish their role in the Head Start program.  Many of the parents shared how they rely on parent committees to receive in-depth information about their center’s program operations and feel these formal committees are necessary to provide their input.

The collected comments from farmworker parents were shared with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, of which ECMHSP is a member, and helped shape the comments that were submitted to the OHS on behalf of the Association.


ECMHSP’s Policy Council, comprised of farmworker parents and members of the community, voiced their concerns with the proposed Head Start Performance Standards.

After reviewing the final changes to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, ECMHSP is pleased to see the OHS recognized the concerns and comments of Head Start parents, and even referenced to their comments in the publishing of the final rule. Thanks to the active participation of our farmworker parents, parent committees will remain a required mandate for every Head Start program. Agencies will retain the parents’ critical decision-making role as leaders in the program governance and operations. Parents voiced their support for other changes in the new Head Start Performance Standards as well, including the discretion to allow members of the Policy Council to serve a maximum of five one-year terms, up from the current maximum of three one-year terms.

The new Head Start Program Performance Standards outline improvements to ensure:

  • effective teaching and learning in the Head Start classrooms;
  • expanded time for learning and healthy development;
  • strengthened and comprehensive Head Start services and family engagement;
  • the health and safety of Head Start Children; and
  • effective management and continuous improvement of Head Start programs.

We are grateful to all of our Policy Council members that provided us with their concerns, submitted their thoughts on the issues, and shared their stories from their community. Our parents’ voice is a critical component to ECMHSP success and played a central role in the comments submitted to the OHS.

You can read the Head Start Program Performance Standards final rule here.hs-perf-standards-graphic

ECMHSP Welcomes Senators Kaine and Warner’s Staff to the Virginia Eastern Shore

ECMSHP welcomes visitors from Sen. Kaine and Sen. Warner

ECMSHP welcomes visitors from Sen. Kaine and Sen. Warner’s DC office in our Parksley Head Start center.

On Thursday, August 25, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project welcomed Karishma Merchant (from Senator Tim Kaine’s Washington, DC office) and Lauren Marshall (from Senator Mark Warner’s Washington DC office) to our Head Start centers on the Virginia Eastern Shore.  Karishma and Lauren had reached out to ECMHSP so that they could learn more about the important work that we do.  We were only too happy to provide them with an education on the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program.


Farmworkers harvest cherry tomatoes in 90-degree weather on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

Karishma and Lauren started their visit at the Eastern Shore Community College, a local college that is a strong community partner to many. There, the tomato producer, Lipman Produce, was holding a worker safety training.  Lipman had bussed in more than 100 farmworkers to take part in this pesticide and food safety training, including parents whose children attend our centers.  Karishma and Lauren had an opportunity to speak with Lipman Produce about their business and their perspective on labor and immigration issues.  We then moved on to see a crew of farmworkers from Maryland picking cherry tomatoes under the hot sun.  It was more than 90 degrees outside and Karishma and Lauren had a great appreciation for the hard labor involved in picking these small tomatoes.

The next stop was one of the camps that farmworkers call home for the duration of their stay on the Eastern Shore. Our Congressional friends were shocked by how difficult the living conditions were for families.  We had to explain, though, that the conditions Karishma and Lauren were seeing were better than many that farmworkers must endure when they travel to harvest our country’s fresh produce.

Migrant farmworkers earn low wages for their back-breaking work and often live in housing provided by the grower.

Migrant farmworkers earn low wages for their back-breaking work and often live in housing provided by the grower.

ECMHSP provides much needed Head Start services to the children of farmworkers at our centers.

ECMHSP provides much needed Head Start services to the children of farmworkers at our centers.

Our last stop was our wonderful Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center in Parksley. There, Karishma and Lauren were able to visit with some young infants and some sleepy preschoolers. Karishma and Lauren both shared there deep appreciation of our work and that they’d love to learn more from us, particularly in reference to immigration policy. What a tremendous opportunity for us to share accurate information from the real world and to advocate for our families in this area!

The Long and Winding Road

Yesterday, shortly after sunrise, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project opened our doors to farmworker families in Jennings, Florida. We couldn’t be happier.

Our newest Head Start center was conceived a number of years ago when our community assessment work demonstrated a desperate and unmet need for Head Start services to migrant farmworker families in Hamilton County, Florida. There, migrant farmworker families arrive in early May to harvest tomatoes before migrating away to points up North at the beginning of July, only to return to the town of Jennings in north Hamilton County at the end of August to continue their work through October.


Farmworker families served by the new Head Start center live in nearby motels during the harvest seasons of Hamilton County, Florida.

Farmworker families who work these short, two-season harvests live in very poor conditions. In Jennings, many families live in motels just off of Interstate 75 for the duration of their stay.  The motels offer little in the way of amenities.  The motel rooms are just places for farmworkers to rest their weary bodies from long days in the hot fields – their young children making do as best they can under very difficult circumstances.

Sixteen months ago we were awarded a grant to develop a childcare center for farmworker families in Jennings.   We knew that if we wanted to truly meet the needs of the migrant farmworker families we’d need to locate the childcare center close to where they lived.  We considered ourselves fortunate when a local resident with a big heart agreed to allow us to develop our childcare center on land he owned that was located less than two miles from the motels.

With the land in hand, we next turned to designing and building a beautiful childcare center. For this purpose, we turned to Labelle, Florida architect, Ted Hoffman, who wrote a blog post about his experience, and our own Facilities Manager, Michael Wilcox.  Together, Ted and Mike moved mountains of dirt — and everything and anything else that stood in their path — until we had a certificate to occupy our new center.

Building a childcare center in rural North Florida is a huge accomplishment, but it only gets one so far down the long and winding road of serving children and families. Before the doors can open, dedicated teachers, assistant teachers, and bilingual caregivers must be hired and trained; family service staff must learn the intricacies of the Head Start enrollment process; and cooks must be prepared to turn fresh fruits and vegetables into delicious and nutritious meals.

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The ECMHSP Jennings center in Florida, which opened yesterday.

We were so very fortunate to bring on board a phenomenal group of individuals who have taken to their new responsibilities with a “can do” attitude.   They have been partnered in their work with experienced classroom staff who have relocated from Head Start centers that we operate in southern parts of Florida.  Together, our Jennings team has created a culturally-sensitive, early learning environment of which we can be very proud.


ECMSHP staff welcome farmworker families to the Jennings Head Start center on opening day.

As is always the case, there are too many staff to mention each by name. And is always the case, we mention each staff by name because we are so proud of their accomplishment: Ja’Lysa Daniels, Assistant Cook; Enedalia Chacon, Cook; Syreeta Delaughter, Teacher; Christopher Rodriguez, Teacher; Marimar Ramirez, Teacher; Estrella Manso, Assistant Teacher; Rolando Vasquez, Assistant Teacher; Ingrid Rivera Colon, Teacher; Nery Standifer, Teacher; Franni Adams, Teacher; Isabel Mendoza, Teacher; Jose Rodriguez, Teacher; Maria “Blanca” Lopez; Teacher; Roxanna Viar, Health/Disability Coordinator; Marisol Lopez, Family Services Worker; Edelnys Rodriguez, Family Services Coordinator; Jennifer Smith, Program Assistant; Kim Luna, Interim Center Director; Angel Casiano, Director of Program Operation West; Luz Ramos, Family and Community Partnership Specialist; and Mariely Rivera-Rohena, our Early Head Start Administrator.


The long and winding road that leads to your door,

Will never disappear,

I’ve seen that road before

It always leads me here,

Leads me to your door