About John Menditto, General Counsel and Director of Risk Management, ECMHSP

John has worked at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project for almost fifteen years. He holds a law degree from The University of Virginia School of Law and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of The George Washington University.

Our Policy Council Leads the Way in Charleston, South Carolina

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The active engagement of parents in Head Start programs is the reason why Head Start has enjoyed such wonderful success in preparing children for their public school education. At East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, we have always depended upon our parents to guide us on how best to prepare their children to succeed in school. Today, in Charleston, South Carolina, the Policy Council of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project completed its second day of important work in support of ECMHSP’s school readiness Head Start mission.

Day one of the Policy Council meeting began with the meetings of the Direct Services Committee and the Delegate Agency Committee. Both committees accomplished much. The Direct Services Committee focused its attention on revisions to ECMHSP’s Selection Criteria. The Selection Criteria is important in every Head Start program. It is particularly important at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project because prioritizing services to farmworker families is essential when families face such wide-ranging and significant challenges.

The Delegate Agency Committee covered a variety of topics specific to each one of our three delegate agencies. Perhaps most importantly, the Delegate Agency enjoyed a rich conversation about the new families who would qualify for services as a result of the expanded definition of qualifying “agricultural labor” under the revised Head Start Performance Standards.

In the afternoon, four separate committee meetings were held: the Fiscal Committee, the Governance Committee, the Child & Family Health Committee, and the Planning Committee. The Governance Committee tackled revisions to the Center Level Governance Manual. To accomplish this work, the Governance Committee enlisted the support of employees from throughout the organization and Governance Committee would like to thank each and every one of them for traveling to Charleston to support us: Juana Rodriguez Cruz (La Familia Center, FL); Celia Rodriguez (Long Creek Center, NC); Cathy Cobb (Bladen County, NC); Michael Edmonds (South Carolina); Marilyn Torres (Florida – West); Dora Sanders (Florida West); Jenny Guzman (North Carolina); Angel Casiano (Lakeland, FL), and Patty Kingery (Raleigh, NC). The Governance Committee intends to present its revised manual to the Policy Council in August for approval and it will be implemented with the opening of the Florida centers in the fall.

Thanks to all of the productive committee work (and to the ever-efficient Maria Rodriguez and Maria Hernandez), the Policy Council meeting on day two moved quickly and smoothly. There were a number of important approval items addressed by the Policy Council, including the Early Head Start refunding application which is due on June 1, 2017.

May 10th was Mother’s Day in Mexico and we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge all of our Policy Council moms who were away from their families during this important day of recognition. We are so grateful for your sacrifice. We also want to acknowledge the dedicated service of Community Representative, Rhonda Povich. Rhonda’s volunteer service to ECMHSP comes to an end with this May meeting. We will miss her.

Loxley Team welcomes farmworker families back to our Head Start Center

Lauryn Sosa has worked with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project for ten years and currently serves as the Center Director of our phenomenal Loxley Center in Baldwin County, Alabama. I was able to catch up with Lauryn recently via telephone and email. Lauryn has been super-busy as the Loxley Center geared up for its opening day on May 2nd, but she was happy to take some time and chat with me about the latest happenings at the Loxley Center.

Lauryn shared that farmworker families in Baldwin County have been very worried about the new enforcement efforts targeted at immigrant communities in Alabama. This worry, she said, has created a feeling of “intimidation” in the farmworker community and parents have been slow to enroll their children in our Head Start program. However, with farm work to be done, parents are enrolling their children with more frequency in recent days and the Loxley Center opened with twenty children and on schedule. As ECMHSP commences transportation services with our wonderful school bus drivers and transportation team, we know enrollment will continue to surge.

When asked to provide a description of what opening day was like Lauryn reported the following:

Children were excited and eager to start at the center. Today, as well, parents arrived bright and early at the center. We currently are working on the enrollment of more children. I have to give thanks to my Loxley Team – a team that is always working hard and together to provide a high quality service to our farm working families. Family service staff and health services staff have done a great job working with the families and expediting enrollments regardless of the challenge of time limitations. Early Childhood Education Coordinators have worked hard with teaching staff to ensure that classrooms were ready and the Coordinators have provided great training to staff. Also, I have to give thanks to my kitchen staff, who have worked diligently to ensure that we have everything needed for the food service and I have to give thanks to the center Program Assistant who has helped a lot in the hiring process of new staff at the center. We have a successful opening and the expectation is to have a successful season!

Last year, the Loxley Center served 121 children and met its funded enrollment. This year, with lots of work at the sweet potato farms, watermelon, pepper and corn fields, as well as abundant work in the nurseries, Lauryn is anticipating another year of meeting funded enrollment. We are so fortunate to have dedicated staff like Lauryn and her Loxley team.

Big Celebrations at the ECMHSP 2017 Annual Conference

Speaker Paul Schmitz at the conference.

ECMHSP hosted our annual conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, from March 14-16. The conference theme was “Looking Towards the Future: Innovation, Leadership, Success.” Everyone in attendance received a wealth of information, with a particular focus on innovative practices to improve the quality of our program.

There were far too many wonderful presentations to share the details of them all with you here. However, we do want to share with you some of the highlights:

  • Dr. Arturo E. Hernandez, the author of the seminal text on bilingualism, The Bilingual Brain, presented a fascinating discussion on the benefits of bilingualism in early childhood education. Our Board President, Dr. David Conde, was so moved by Dr. Hernandez’s presentation, he drafted a recent article on the topic. You can read it here.
  • Training on the new Head Start Program Performance Standards: Our partners from FHI 360, fresh from their own training, oriented us on the new research-based, outcomes-driven performance standards. Eileen Torres and Leida Rivera of FHI 360 shouldered the heaviest presentation burden making more than a dozen presentations during the course of three days.
  • Paul Schmitz, the former Executive Director of the non-profit Public Access, made a riveting presentation on the qualities of leadership and how leaders are formed through a collaborative process, with many individuals supporting those who are anointed with the title of “leader.”
  • Kay Schieffer of the Grant Wood Area Education Agency provided an informative presentation on best practices for trauma-sensitive early childhood classrooms.

In addition to these wonderful presentations, a number of ECMHSP departments stepped up and delivered presentations on important topics, including the Quality Assurance team (led by Beth Zinkand), and the Nutrition team (led by Anteasha Farrell).

Dr. Villa, CEO, and Dr. Conde, Board President, congratulated staff as they were recognized for their years of service at the Annual Conference.

At the closing plenary of the ECMHSP Annual Conference, Dr. David Conde, reflected upon all that we had covered at the conference and shared the Board’s perspective on where ECMHSP is and where ECMHSP is going. Dr. José S. Villa, our Chief Executive Officer, followed Dr. Conde’s presentation with an inspirational message for the ECMHSP community which reminded us that all of our MSHS children are true “road scholars”.

Traci Lasher, HR Director, presented Angel Casiano (left) and Dana Rogers (right) with this year’s Staff Excellence Awards.

The annual conference ended on a celebratory note. ECMHSP is fortunate to have talented and dedicated staff throughout our service areas, and many were recognized for their years of service and their excellent performance. ECMHSP instituted the Staff Award for Commitment to Excellence to give special recognition to employees in all parts of the organization, including the Direct Service operations and Administrative Services. Staff are invited to nominate deserving employees who have made outstanding contributions that improved the life of a migrant or seasonal child or family, or significantly contributed to the professional development of their fellow staff members.This year’s recipients were Angel Casiano, Director of Operations West, and Dana Rogers, South Carolina Head Start Administrator.

ECMHSP wishes Michael Wilcox a happy retirement and thanks him for his years of service.

We also celebrated the retirement of longtime ECMSHP Facilities Manager, Michael Wilcox. We thank him for his hard work in keeping our centers safe and beautiful for our children to learn and play.

We owe a special thanks to the Program Support Department team that did a wonderful job designing our conference, especially Christine Alvarado, Clara Cappiello, and Cynthia Victa Matthews.

Indiantown Center Hosts the ECMHSP Board

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Parents in Indiantown leave their children at the ECMHSP center to learn and play while they work in zucchini fields.

On January 20, the Board of Directors of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project had the opportunity to visit children and staff at our wonderful center in Indiantown, Florida. The day began as days begin for many of our children – with a bus ride. And like the preschool children who ride our school buses, the ride to Indiantown was a learning experience for everyone on board, as ECMHSP Head Start Administrator Loretta Jones shared lots of wonderful information about the Indiantown center and the community of farmworkers who are served there. We learned, for example, that families speak a variety of languages at the Indiantown center including Spanish, Creole, English and dialects of Mexico and Central American countries, such as Guatemala.

Before visiting the children, we had the opportunity to meet with Geraldo and Maria Rivera of Lakeside Ranch of Indiantown and see our farmworker parents hard at work harvesting organic zucchini. Geraldo and Maria were generous with their time. They shared that as small, organic farmers they were deeply reliant on the labor and skill of our parents to harvest their crops. Board member Jaime Delgado shared his knowledge of the zucchini harvest, noting where to cut the vine and how young the zucchini needs to be for peak return.

Head Start children at the ECMHSP Indiantown Center.

Head Start children at the ECMHSP Indiantown Center.

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ECMHSP Board members visited center classrooms, where they interacted with the children.

Following the visit to the farm, the Board received a tour of the Indiantown Center. Center Director Floria Pachecho and her core team did an excellent job of explaining on how the Indiantown center prepares young children for educational success. Particularly noteworthy was the presentation by Early Childhood Education Specialist Karen James of the center’s school readiness results. As always, the teaching staff impressed us with their dedication and knowledge of best child care practices. And, as always, the Board members enjoyed all of their interaction and engagement with the 63 children in attendance.

The day after the site visit, our Board dedicated their Saturday to a full day of governance work. A packed agenda included discussion of a new five-year strategic plan for ECMHSP, and our implementation of the new Head Start Performance Standards. We are so fortunate to have a committed group of mission-driven individuals to guide our work.

Maria’s Excellent Adventure

Maria was one of the first farmworkers to apply for DACA, which would allow her to travel outside of the U.S. with Advanced Parole.

Maria was one of the first farmworkers to apply for DACA, which would allow her to travel outside of the U.S. with Advance Parole.

Twenty-three-year-old Maria Sanchez Martinez is the former Vice President of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Policy Council. In August of 2012, she was one of the first farmworkers to submit an application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has allowed her to lawfully work in the U.S. and consequently, has improved the her life and the life of her family dramatically. Since then, she has twice renewed her DACA eligibility.

On October 25, 2016, Maria was able to travel home to Mexico on Advance Parole to visit her ailing grandfather. It was the first time she had seen her grandfather and her extended family since coming to the United States 14 years ago.   We recently were able to chat with Maria about her excellent adventure.

When did you find out that your application for Advance Parole was approved and how did it make you feel?

With the help of John Menditto (General Counsel at ECMHSP), I submitted my Advance Parole application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in June of 2016. The application process required us to establish my family relationship to my grandfather and to provide a letter from his medical doctor regarding his health. USCIS approved my application on September 26 but they only permitted me to travel for thirty days (until October 26) and they failed to send me my travel document. John had to contact USCIS and had them re-issue the travel document and ask them to extend the travel period.   USCIS extended the travel period, but only for an additional five days.

When John told me my application was approved I was excited, yet nervous. I also was disappointed at the short-notice and turnaround time.

Tell us about your travel plans.  How did you get from Florence, South Carolina, to the village in Mexico where you lived until you were nine years old?

I immediately made flight reservations, which were very costly due to the short time to make the reservations. I drove from Florence to Orlando, Florida, which was seven hours of driving. I then flew from Orlando to Mexico City and then waited overnight in the airport to fly to Veracruz. My aunt, Dulce Maria Hernandez Pavon, and my uncle met me at the airport. We drove to my village Villa Cuitlahuac, which was 90 minutes away.

Maria's flight from Florida to Mexico on Advanced Parole.

On Advance Parole, Maria flew from Florida to her small village in Mexico.

Did anyone travel with you?  If so, why did they come along?

I brought three children with me — my two sons, Jovany Sanchez Arroyo age 6, Martin Sanchez Arroyo age 8, and my younger sister, Vicenta Sanchez, age 11. They are all United States citizens, but none of them had ever met any family members in Mexico. I brought them because I did not know if we’d ever be able to see our family in Mexico.

Tell us about seeing your family?  What did you feel?

Seeing my family after almost 15 long years was the moment that I won’t change for anything. Tears of happiness fell from my eyes and from my family’s eyes. Words can’t describe how my heartfelt to see all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It was the best reunion I have ever had.

Describe a favorite memory about your trip.

When I went back to my childhood home and I found a toy rabbit I used to play with when I lived in the village at the age of nine.

Your Advanced Parole was issued because you were visiting your ill grandfather, can you share with us how he is doing?

Through the help of ECMHSP, Maria applied for Advanced Parole to visit her ailing grandfather.

Through the help of ECMHSP, Maria applied for Advance Parole that allowed her to visit her ailing grandfather.

He had several health issues including heart problems. He has been hospitalized several times due to his health from the time I requested the Advance Parole until now. At this time, he is stable, but I was happy that I was able to be with him and help care for him.

What was it like coming back through Border Patrol and Customs after you landed at the airport in the United States?

I was very, very nervous. I went through Border Control at the airport in Houston, Texas. I was afraid that something would be wrong with my travel document and I would not be admitted. I called John just before going in to the Border Control office and he told me not to be nervous – that my travel document would authorize me to be admitted back into the United States. He was right!

What advice would you have for other DACA farmworkers traveling on Advance Parole?

Don’t be scared. Make sure to have all of the documents before leaving United States. Be ready to answer simple questions like, “What was the purposes of traveling under the Advance Parole?” “What part of Mexico did you visit?” “Where do you live?” “How long have you been in the United States?” “What do you do for a living?” Make sure that you speak truly and clear.

Maria was able to visit the family members she left behind at the age of nine when she moved to the U.S.

Maria was able to visit family members she left behind when she moved to the U.S. at the age of nine.

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.

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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.

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 onlinelap.net.

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.