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.

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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.

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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

 

Guest Post: Education Starts with the Very Young

Dr. David Conde is the President for North America of the Chamber of the Americas. He currently serves as the President of the ECMHSP Board of Directors and is a contributing writer for La Voz Bilingüe. This is his latest article.

For me, my early educational journey was a messy business with many stops and starts as we traveled the migrant and seasonal work route around the country. We could not start the school until well into the academic year and had to leave early to start again working the fields from state to state.

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As a child, Dr. David Conde struggled to succeed in the classroom due to his family’s migrant lifestyle; he brings these personal experiences into the ECMSHP Board of Directors meetings.

So, I did not have to imagine what that did to my academic progress and the future probability of not finishing K-12 and becoming another statistic. To this day, I cherish the memory of being able to stay in one place for the time it took to start and finish junior high school.

Fortunately, I was a lucky migrant child of a mother who had an 8th grade education and taught me to read and write in the evenings after work. I remember skipping block lettering and learning to write in cursive in English and Spanish because that was the way she taught me.

The most interesting and at times, glamorous part of my student journey was at the universities that I attended and the class discussions about meaningful subjects for a scholar. It was also in higher education that I learned that by the age of six a child has acquired most of the learning components and concepts that are the basis for the intellectual awareness that will follow the rest of the life experience.

It dawned on me that K-12 and the college experience was really an elaboration of the basic structures acquired during the pre-K years. I realized that the time spent with my mom in the early years as an infant and toddler learning about letters and stories were fundamental to what I became as a learned person.

Today we have early childhood institutions that are vital learning centers to the very young. The most important for children of families with scarce means is Head Start, a federal program chartered to address the important early childhood years.

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Children of farmworker families are able to play and learn in ECMHSP’s Head Start centers located along the East Coast, from Lake Okeechobee, Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania.

Dearest to my heart in this area is East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, a program that serves over three thousand children of migrant worker families along an agricultural route from Florida to Pennsylvania as they harvest the food we put on the table every day. The initiative takes children from six weeks to five years of age and puts them on an intellectual journey in two languages that prepares them for the public schools at the Kindergarten level.

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As President, Dr. David Conde leads the ECMSHP Board of Directors in making important decisions on how to best serve the migrant farmworker community.

My colleagues and myself on the board of directors look forward to every report on the progress of the effort and try to find additional ways to enrich the experience of everyone from the staff to the children and parents so that the East Coast award-winning effort makes the biggest difference in the lives of is an important part of the next generation of Americans. Advocacy for these economically challenged and mostly Latino families is an imperative as it is the genius in these children that will find a place in the future leadership of a country that is changing as we speak.

When we visit our schools and centers, we see those eager faces that absorb so much of the Head Start experience. Parents help guide that experience as they take time out of work to partner with staff and other policy makers to make the effort work.

Spending time with these parents reminds me of my mother and the care she took of me in the fields and in our temporary homes. In this case however, there is help in learning the ABCs.

[Published in La Voz Bilingüe on August 10, 2016.]

Summer Interns of ’16 Take a Walk Down Memory Lane

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The NMSHSA Internship Class of 2016 take a lunch break during their visit to Virginia’s Eastern Shore and its farmworker families.

“Going through the center and seeing those little kids I saw my brother, I saw my two sisters, I saw myself – all present in the form of these young souls.”

– Misael Rangel

On Friday, July 22, our Head Start Center in Parksley, Virginia, hosted a visit by the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s Summer Internship Class of 2016.  The visit was the culmination of a seven-week paid summer internship in Washington, DC, for Adilenne (Adi) Villanueva from Inspire Development Center, currently attending Washington State University; Luis Aguilar from Redlands Christian Migrant Association, currently attending the University of South Florida; Griselda Tule-Aguirre from Telamon Corporation, recently graduated from Michigan State University; and Misael Rangel from our very own East Coast Migrant Head Start Project program, currently attending the University of Central Florida.

Adi, Luis, Griselda and Misael had been selected for their summer internships based upon their exceptional accomplishments at their respective colleges and based upon the fact that each had attended a Migrant Head Start program as a young child. The three-hour trip to the Virginia Eastern Shore was a chance for them to re-live for a day their experiences in the Head Start program.

We were greeted upon our arrival by Lynn Bowen, the Head Start Administrator for the Virginia Eastern Region, and Rhonda Strand, the Early Childhood Education and Disabilities Specialist for the region. Lynn and Rhonda shared information on the services delivered to farmworker families on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before LaShundra Weeks, our Parksley Center Director, led us on a tour of the Parksley classrooms.

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Griselda, NMSHSA Intern from Michigan, is holding one of the children enrolled in the ECMHSP Migrant Head Start Center.

Our first stop was in the infant and toddler classroom. Often, infants and toddlers are reluctant to warmly welcome new faces in their classroom, but our youngest children at the Parksley Center knew they were among special friends on Friday.  Adi, Luis, Griselda and Misael were greeted with nothing but smiles and hugs.

From the infant and toddler classroom we transitioned to the young toddler classroom where a lunch of grilled cheese (whole wheat bread!), tomato soup, and fresh blueberries was being served. I was pleased to see my young friend, Jovanni, enjoying his lunch.  Jovanni’s mother, Meiby, is on the Virginia Eastern Shore from Immokalee, Florida, (via St. Helena Island, South Carolina) for the tomato harvest.  Meiby recently had her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application approved through the help and support of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and it was so nice to her son’s smiling face.

We completed our center tour by hanging out with the preschool children and their teachers.   There, the preschool children showed off their counting abilities to the summer interns, as well as their mastery of animal sounds and their mastery of the sound of laughter.  The classroom filled up with children’s laughter.

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Misael, a former ECMHSP child, takes a look back at where he came from as he plans his future career.

Following the center visit, Family Community Partnership Specialist, Lisa Fernandez, brought the summer interns to two different farmworker labor camps. This was a more sobering experience for the summer interns.  We had the opportunity to see the extremely difficult living conditions the families will experience during their four-month stay on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

“As we walked through the camps where these families lived, I remembered my own little trailer,” Misael Rangel observed. “It was like looking at a video of my own life years ago.  It’s difficult for our families to overcome these obstacles and I thank God for the people that continue to protect and nurture my little brothers and sisters.

There are lots of wonderful people to thank for protecting and nurturing Misael’s “little brothers and sisters” at the Parksley center.  In fact, they are too many to mention, but here they are anyway:  Genee Drummond, Candice Logan, Jose Ramos-Enriquez, Patricia Auguilar-Rios, Jasmine Francis, Jennifer Holderfield, Erica Larreinaga-Padilla, Esther Martinez Enriquez, Paloma Vazquez Quintero, Mildre Velasquez Bartolon, Flor de la Cruz Mendoza, Meliza, Ledesma, Vernice Pantaleon, Cymekia Chandler, Tayshia Daugherty, Susie Dickerson, Jeremiah Dorsey, Chelsea Rew, Shawsan Bailey, Genima Collins, Martha Collins, Arnette Gaskins, Mike Balance, Jennifer Santiago, Kayona Hernandez, Hector Velez, Brittany Pettit, Nichole Satchel, Patricia Bibbins, Barnette Holden, Linda Ames, Latoya Coston, and Celestine (a.k.a. Miss Tine) Hargis.

Thank you, all!

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John Menditto visits with his friend Jovanni, the child of a farmworker family he helped through ECMHSP’s immigration services.

Guest Post: In the Interest of Children

Holly Strait is the Senior Director Child & Family Development Services at PathStone Corporation. This is her experience at the Field of Dreams Head Start Center’s opening day.

On July 12, the Adams County Family Development Field of Dreams Head Start center opened on a hot and humid day to 24 appreciative farmworker families. Parents were comfortable leaving their children in a familiar setting as they headed off to pick, pack, and process peaches.

Farmworkers enroll their children for Head Start services at the Field of Dreams center.

Farmworkers enroll their children for Head Start services at the Field of Dreams center.

As one family member said, “The classrooms look very nice and I feel safe in leaving my child at the center while I am at work.”

As children and families found their way to their assigned classroom, teachers were there to greet them with a smile and a hug on the first day of school. The classrooms filled up with children, and teachers were ready to implement activity plans. Old and new friends were curious to explore all the new exciting classroom furnishings and materials that were purchased prior to opening day. The teachers saw how all 32 enrolled children were laughing and looking ahead.

Through the course of the past few months, administrators interviewed and hired new teachers for the center. Staff participated in planning meetings, pre-service trainings, community events, and partnership-building activities to prepare for a successful opening day.

For more than 20 years, PathStone Corporation, a delegate agency of ECMHSP, has been able to provide high-quality childcare to children and their families while parents harvest fruits for the Adams County community. The Field of Dreams Head Start center is surrounded by peach and apple orchards in a growing Hispanic community. The center is expected to meet their full funded enrollment of 60 children by the end of August.

On average, the Field of Dreams farmworker families work from sun up to sun down, yet they find time to participate at the center. Over the course of four months during which the center is in operation, families volunteer on average more than 1,000 hours in total.

The sound of children's voices and laughter fill the classrooms on opening day.

The sound of children’s voices and laughter fill the classrooms on opening day.

As the children left the center at the end of the day, they exclaimed to their parents in a fun way, “I can’t wait to come back and play another day!”

Happy harvesting to all, and to all a prosperous Fall.

Continuity and Stability for our Mobile Families

Blueberry harvest in North Carolina. Photo credit: Morgan McCloy, NPR

Blueberry harvest in North Carolina. Photo credit: Morgan McCloy, NPR

This morning, NPR aired a story on North Carolina’s blueberry harvest, “For Pickers, Blueberries Mean Easier Labor But More Upheaval.” The report focused on a migrant farmworker family who followed the harvest from Florida to North Carolina, and then continued on to Michigan.

Benito Santiago spoke with reporter Dan Charles about his family’s journey. His family made the difficult and often risky travel to from Florida to North Carolina’s blueberry harvest because, even though the season is brief, it is profitable and it is one of the easier crops to harvest. But Benito is also aware of the burden the migratory lifestyle has on his family, especially the children.

Children learn and play at one of our centers while their parents work in the fields.

Children learn and play at one of our centers while their parents work in the fields.

Children from migrant farmworker families with a disrupted education, like Benito’s children, oftentimes fall behind in their studies and struggle to catch up more and more as each year passes. Just as a child is starting to settle into a new school with new teachers and new friends, it is time for the family to move again.

This story underscores why our migrant farmworker families need our support. As it has for the last 30 years, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project continues to provide continuity in services and stability for the children of migrant farmworker families through their Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. ECMHSP programs serve farmworker families by offering dual-language early childhood education for their children from birth to age five, and classes designed to enhance parents’ understanding of the public school system. ECMHSP equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to enter kindergarten, and empowers parents to take an active role in the education of their children. You can learn more about the high quality and comprehensive services provided and the farmworker families we serve by seeing this video, a part of the series American Graduate.

What makes ECMHSP truly special is our ability to overcome the many challenges we face to meet the unique needs of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start eligible children and their families. The farmworker families we serve 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 Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers to provide healthcare services and treatments, transportation costs, and nutritious meals for their children.

ECMHSP operates 38 Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers along the East Coast, from Lake Okeechobee, Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania. As a child moves from one of our center service areas to another center service area, we are able to access information on the children’s educational progress, immunization and health records, and family information to ensure the continuation of services and support. ECMHSP also maintains communication with the families served at our centers as they move up the East Coast so that servces are shaped around their needs.

Farmworker Benito carrying his daughter. Photo credit: Morgan McCloy, NPR

Farmworker Benito carrying his daughter. Photo credit: Morgan McCloy, NPR

Benito Santiago was able to buy a house in Bladen County, North Carolina. His children will be able to attend the same school year round with the same teachers. But many families will continue to make the trek across America to provide us with the fresh fruits and vegetables we enjoy each day. And ECMSHP will be here to give their children a safe place to learn and play.

To find the nearest ECMHSP center, please visit our website: www.ecmhsp.org.

Guest Post: Success Doesn’t Fall from the Sky

Misael Rangel is part of the 2016 NMSHSA Summer Internship Program and as a child was enrolled in the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Head Start center in Florida. This is his story.

My name is Misael Rangel. I was born and raised in Fort Pierce, Florida. I am the son of Teresa and Ignacio Rangel, who immigrated to this country in search of a better life by escaping the poverty of their hometown in Guanajuato, Mexico. When they arrived in Florida, my father began work picking oranges. After I was born, we began to migrate to North Carolina, where my father also picked tobacco.

While in Fort Pierce, I was enrolled in East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Program. My time there was brief, yet it made a huge impact: my siblings and I were able to learn English. In my earliest memories, I remember understanding and speaking both English and Spanish. In a home where Spanish was the only language spoken, the only way I would have learned English so well and so early was through this program. Knowing English helped me in elementary school. Going into kindergarten and grade school knowing English provided a smooth transition; there was no language barrier to prevent communication. I was on the same playing field as my classmates and I even excelled, getting placed into gifted classes early in grade school. It also helped my family because so many times, we found ourselves as little translators for my parents. My parents tell me they too were learning English through us, their kids.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff at this year's Spring meeting.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff at this year’s Spring meeting.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project also brought education into perspective for my parents, as it has for countless of other parents of this program. Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of an education to us. They understood the power an education could have in changing our lives, and I knew they wanted a better life for me and my siblings — not a life littered with the type of suffering they had gone through. My dad never finished the equivalent of middle school in Mexico; and my mother did go on to finish the equivalent of high school, but that is where her education ended. In a new country with no prior knowledge of the U.S. education system, and still learning English themselves, school was not a place where my parents could provide us with guidance. You see, there was a road my siblings and I had to pave for ourselves. We were all learning together as we went through school. Thanks to the ECMHSP program, a fire was lit inside of me in at an early age — the fire that created a thirst for a better life and has become my determination to pursue my higher education.

Once my older sister started elementary school, we settled in Fort Pierce, where my father continued to work in tomato fields, later in a nursery, and eventually in landscaping. Growing up in the farmworker community, I learned the ever-important value of hard work. As my dad would tell me, “The food on your table doesn’t just fall from the sky.” With this always on my mind, I have never taken my studies lightly. I have seen day in and day out the hard labor that my parents have worked in and I know there is something I can do to help them. Growing up, it was hard to stay focused; college was not a path that my family had taken before. At times, it seemed like such a distant, unattainable goal. Nevertheless, I pressed on. I am proud to say I graduated high school in the top ten of my class, with my diploma from the International Baccalaureate program.

Misael graduated in the top 10 percent of his high school class and earned an IB diploma.

Misael graduated in the top 10 percent of his high school class and earned an IB diploma.

Today I attend the University of Central Florida where I am pursuing my degree in Civil Engineering, with a minor in Information Technology. One day, as a civil engineer, I will do what I can to make this world a safe place; for me that means being involved in the construction of our nation’s infrastructure, which needs to be renewed. There are new implications to take into consideration especially with the impact of humanity as a whole on the environment. With that in mind, there is no telling where my work will take me. I hope I can one day serve as an example to kids that went through what I did, that perhaps do not see education as an avenue for them, and let them know that it really is.

Misael was selected from a national pool of college students who were formerly enrolled in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Misael was selected from a national pool of college students who were formerly enrolled in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Earlier this year, I was selected from applicants across the country to be in the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s summer internship program. This is an opportunity the Association makes possible for college students that have gone through the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program, and it is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for kids like us. This internship makes it possible for us to work at a site fitting to our studies. This summer I am interning at the Hispanic Communication Network, where I am learning different aspects of business and the industry side of IT! The opportunities and networks that I can make here are endless, and this is really a life-changing opportunity.

If there is one thing that I hope anyone can take away from my story it is to not be afraid. I want our farmworker youth to not be afraid to pursue their dreams. But in order for them to achieve their dreams, they need the push. Sometimes, the push may need to come from an outside helping hand. For me, that hand continues to be ECMHSP. I also want our country to support farmworker families like mine, because at the end of the day, it is their hard work that puts that food on the table. Like my dad says, “It doesn’t just fall from the sky.”

Open doors and smiling faces at Parksley

LaShundra Weeks is the Center Director for the Parksley Migrant Head Start Center in Virginia. This is her experience at the center’s opening day.

The secret to success is planning.

Parents came to the center before opening day for orientation and to meet teachers.

After much planning and preparation, ECMHSP’s Parksley Head Start Center, located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, finally opened its doors on June 28, for yet another season.

In this region, migrant farm laborers work alongside local, seasonal farmworkers to harvest the hand-picked crops.

The Parksley center staff conducted a parent orientation the day before opening. The orientation allowed parents to get familiarized with the Head Start services being provided, as well as affording an opportunity for parents to tour the center. Parents are also able to meet their child’s teacher to create a personal connection.

On opening day the teachers were eager and anticipating the children’s arrival with numerous of shared activities planned.

Family Service Coordinator Jose Ramos greeting a child on the first day.

Family Service Coordinator Jose Ramos greeting a child on the first day.

Our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program provides a range of services in areas of education and early childhood development; medical, dental, and mental health; parent involvement; and family support services.

Staff at the Parksley Center is looking forward to developing trusting, caring and supportive relationships with our children and families this season.

For more information on the services provided by ECMHSP’s Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program and centers near you, please visit our website: www.ecmhsp.org

 

Children are able to learn and play in our Parksley Head Start Center.

Children are able to learn and play in our Parksley Head Start Center.