Summer is Here and We’re Ready!

Lynn Bowen is the Head Start Administrator for ECMHSP’s Direct Services in Virginia. This is her experience as she and her team prepare to serve farmworker families at their centers.

This week, Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of the summer. For many, the warmer days of the summer season offer the perfect time for family vacations, outdoor fun and trips to the beach.

At East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, the summer season has a slightly different meaning. It is growing season for many farms across America and workers are called to harvest the fresh fruits and vegetables grown under the summer sun. The migrant and seasonal farmworker families we serve begin their migration journey from Florida up along the East Coast to the states to the north, such as South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

These families bring along with them their most precious possessions—their children—and look for a safe and nurturing place to entrust their care while they work long days under the hot summer sun. East Coast Migrant Head Start Project wants to make sure our centers are ready for these families when they arrive.

Parksley Center team recruitment training and planning.

The dedicated employees of the two Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia know the families are on their way and we are excited to welcome them with open doors. In anticipation, staff have been attending various training sessions, which have served to both enhance current skills and increase knowledge of our evolving component areas. These pre-season preparations ensure we are able to provide high-quality holistic services when we open our Head Start centers in Virginia.

In addition to learning new skills, these sessions have given staff members the opportunity to spend time together and continue the process of becoming effective teams. Managers and other training providers have also helped affirm and strengthen our relationship with content experts based at the ECMHSP headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Presentation led by Lisa Fernandez, Family Community Partnership/Health Specialist for Virginia Direct Services.

The time spent together has reminded us of the bigger picture; we are part of a larger team. Center actions and regional actions reverberate throughout ECMHSP. As center and regional teams, and as an agency team, we must remember that our actions have major impacts within ECMHSP and within our communities. Pre-service has given us the opportunity to ensure that the ripples we send forth from our region are positive and mission focused. Our goal is for these ripples to turn into waves of positivity and advocacy for our staff, families, and children in our centers.

As we welcome the start of a new season, we proudly welcome our farmworker families to our centers with a renewed sense of commitment and love for the work that we do.

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.

2016 Annual Report: A Year in Review

ECMHSP is excited to announce the release of the 2016 Annual Report. The report showcases the great success ECMHSP experienced in providing comprehensive and high-quality services to farmworker families along the East Coast.

Some of the highlights from this year’s report include:

  • An overview of our indigenous language curriculum with parental involvement
  • A red carpet rollout of a documentary featuring a ECMHSP family
  • A parent’s effort to bring her congressman to her Head Start center
  • Total number of children and families served

Cover of the ECMHSP 2016 Annual Report

Each year, ECMHSP releases its annual report, pursuant to requirements in the Head Start Act. The report includes information on funding sources, results of the most recent financial audit, and other information required by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

You can view the full 2016 Annual Report and past annual reports on our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org/reports.html

ECMHSP thanks our staff for their wonderful work and Head Start parents for their participation throughout the year. The hard work, love, and dedication is felt every day at our Head Start centers, and is reflected in this report.

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.

Ringing in the New Year After 35 Years of Service

ecmhsp-35-year-anniversary-logoThe year 2016 was special for us: it was East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s 35th Anniversary.

ECMHSP has grown so much since the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Sister Geraldine O’Brien founded the first Head Start center for farmworker families on the east coast in Palatka, Florida. Since those humble beginnings, we have expanded up the east coast, providing more than 200,000 farmworker children with an opportunity to learn and play.

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Children enrolled in ECMHSP’s Head Start program receive dental exams and immunizations.

What’s the secret to our success? Our dedicated parents and committed staff in our centers and offices. Season after season, the families we serve leave their loving imprints at our centers and in our hearts, and eventually move on to a successful education in the K-12 schools. Yet, in our centers, our staff remain to welcome the next class of smiling faces. ECMHSP has been fortunate to have incredible staff that have dedicated their careers to educating and nurturing young children of farmworker families in our centers.

Celia Tigerina –Sally, as she is lovingly known in the La Familia Head Start center—is one example of a staff member that has been with the organization since 1976. She understands first-hand the struggles the families we serve face, having grown up working in the Texas cotton fields and migrating herself. When she settled in Florida, her friend invited her to work with her at ECMHSP. She started her journey at ECMHSP by preparing nutritious meals in the center’s kitchen, then went on to help bring the children to our centers in the buses, and eventually worked her way into the classroom. Sally is known by her fellow coworkers as a quiet but very happy person. She loves to sing and dance with the children, and she especially enjoys seeing the young children she used to carry in her arms all grown up now.

Sally credits ECMHSP with changing her life as well. Through her hard work and with the support of ECMHSP, she was able to get out of the fields and get an education. She now has a GED and has been licensed to work with the young children in our Head Start center. ECMHSP also provided work opportunities for her sisters as well. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with children of different backgrounds and to ECMHSP for giving her the chance to make a positive impact in the world.

The infants & toddlers participated in age appropriate activities while they were getting to know their new teachers.

ECMHSP’s dedicated staff ensure the children have a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn and play.

The ECMHSP community has many stories of special individuals like Sally who have made it their life’s work to prepare the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success. Children that wore their caps and gowns at our Head Start centers years ago are now walking across the stage in caps and gowns to receive their college degrees. That’s what we do at ECMHSP: we change lives, one child at a time.

In looking back to our achievements over the past 35 years, the vision for the future of the organization becomes clear, and it is bright! ECMHSP is proud to continue our legacy of providing high-quality and culturally-appropriate Head Start services to migrant and seasonal farmworker families.

Throughout the month of November and December, our Florida centers have opened their doors to migrant farmworker families returning from their travels upstream, where farmworkers were finishing up the harvest seasons along the East Coast. As of mid-December, ECMHSP has enrolled 538 children in its Florida centers, and there are another 79 children on the wait list as we work to hire more teaching staff to open more classrooms. In addition, our wonderful delegate agency, PathStone Corporation, opened their centers in Berks County and Chester County, Pennsylvania, to farmworkers working in the mushroom industry.

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Our Head Start centers in Florida are now open to provide farmworker families with services.

ECMHSP takes this opportunity to thank all of our dedicated staff for helping us succeed and we invite you to join us in ringing in the new year by celebrating this accomplishment. In particular, we would like to share a special THANK YOU to Sally for her many years of service. We wish you the best in your upcoming retirement.

We are looking forward to our many more accomplishments to come in 2017 – and the next 35 years.