ECMHSP Alumnus in the National Media Spotlight!

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ECMHSP Alumnus Misael visits our Head Start center in Virginia.

This morning, NBC News published the story, “‘Life-Changing’: Head Start Gives Latino Migrant Children Early Education,” which featured ECMHSP alumnus Misael Rangel.

Misael attended the Fort Pierce (Florida) Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center as a young child, and has since been a great ambassador of ECMHSP’s Head Start programs.  Misael was one of the four participants selected for this year’s National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Summer Internship Program and wrote about his experiences in Washington, DC, in a post on our blog, From Harvest to Head Start.

The farmworker parents elected to the ECMHSP Policy Council were able to meet with Misael and his brother Juan at the Policy Council meeting in Clearwater, Florida, last May.  Misael shared with the parents and ECMHSP staff an inspirational account on how the program had a positive impact on the lives of his family, and how his early childhood education ignited a hunger to learn that has helped him throughout his educational career.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff in Clearwater, Florida.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff in Clearwater, Florida.

Among the parents who met with Misael was Lety, whose family is currently enrolled to receive Head Start services from PathStone, ECMHSP’s delegate agency in New Jersey.  Lety and her children have been a part of the ECMHSP Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program for years, and her involvement in the organization’s leadership is a testament to her dedication to her children’s success.  She too was interviewed in the NBC News story.

ECMHSP is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success.

ECMHSP is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success.

Both members of the ECMHSP community remind us of the important role our centers play in the communities we serve.  East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, such as Misael, for success. We know that the best way to do this is by providing holistic, high-quality early childhood education services for children and families, such as Lety’s, in a nurturing, culturally-sensitive environment.  We also understand that the needs of our farmworker families extend well outside of the classroom, and in response, we are providing services and advocating for children and families in their other areas of need.

Like the other Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs across the country, ECMHSP is proud to serve migrant and seasonal farmworker families.  Farmworkers work so hard each day to provide us with a fresh and secure source of fruits and vegetables each day.  The least we can do to thank them for their hard work is to care for their most precious treasures—their children—in our classrooms.

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.

ECMHSP Prepares for Florida’s Farmworker Families

Workers place the berries directly into the plastic clamshell packages that shoppers will find in stores. Photo credit: Dan Charles, NPR

Workers place the berries directly into the plastic clamshell packages that shoppers will find in stores. Photo credit: Dan Charles, NPR

This week, National Public Radio (NPR) aired the investigative report, “In Florida, Strawberry Fields Are Not Forever.” This report is part of the ongoing series by NPR, in collaboration with ECMHSP, focusing on our farmworker families and the work they do providing America with a safe and secure source of fresh fruits and vegetables.

In this story, reporter Dan Charles spoke to farmworkers who describe the back-breaking labor of the strawberry harvest in and around Plant City, Florida. There, farmworkers work long days under the hot sun in hopes of making enough money to feed their families. Farmworker parents, like Bernarda Chavez, soon will pack their belongings and move their families up the East Coast, following the labor contractor to the next harvest.

Working in strawberry fields require long days in under the hot sun.

ECMHSP parent work long days in under the hot sun during the strawberry harvest.

The farm fields are no place for young children. When young children accompany their parents into the fields, they are exposed to the many hazards of agricultural work, such as pesticides, heavy machinery, and extreme weather conditions. They need a nurturing, safe place where they can play and learn.

In the coming weeks and months our Head Start centers in Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey will open their doors to our migrant farmworker families ensuring that young children do not accompany their parents to the fields. Our dedicated employees will open their hearts to these same families as well. As spring arrives, we celebrate the contributions of farmworker families who miraculously feed this great nation.  We also celebrate our dedicated employees who make minor Head Start miracles happen each and every day.

Office of Head Start's Colleen Rathgeb and ECMHSP's Parksley Center Director LaShundra Weeks with children from farmworker families.

Office of Head Start’s Colleen Rathgeb and ECMHSP’s Parksley Center Director LaShundra Weeks with children from farmworker families.

Cameras Rolling at La Familia Center

Daniel Jaime is the Center Director for La Familia Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in Florida. This is his experience working with media.

La Familia Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in Dundee, Florida.

La Familia Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in Dundee, Florida.

On Feb. 18, I received a phone call from John Sarmiento, a news anchor for Telemundo Tampa. Mr. Sarmiento called me because he had heard from a community partner about the wonderful services ECMHSP’s La Familia Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center provides in Dundee, Florida, and surrounding areas. He wanted to see if he could come to the center and interview a few farmworker parents who have benefited from the services that we provided and how they felt it would benefit other families in the community.

The next day at around noon, Mr. Sarmiento arrived with his camera crew. We had two farmworker parents who were willing to provide a brief testimony of the services that they had and were receiving. During his visit, Mr. Sarmiento toured the center and was able to see all of the staff and children in action. “It’s just remarkable,” he said. He couldn’t believe how nice the classrooms were set up and the attention that was being given to the children. Once he finished touring the center, Mr. Sarmiento began to interview the parents.

The parents were nervous at first because they were going to be on television; but once they got into the interview, you could see the passion in their eyes and the words coming directly from their heart. The parents did a tremendous job representing East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and describing the services that they have received. When asked if they thought that other families would benefit from these types of services, they did not hesitate to say, “It’s a wonderful program. Who wouldn’t want their children in a center like this?”

Ana Maria Cruz, farmworker parent, shares in the interview how La Familia center has helped her children.

Ana Maria Cruz, farmworker parent, shares in the interview how La Familia center has helped her children.

In my interview with Mr. Sarmiento, he wanted me to talk about all of the services that we provide, what our services areas are, as well as if there are other centers like us in the area or elsewhere. I provided information about what services East Coast Migrant Head Start Project provides and how a family could potentially qualify. I also informed Mr. Sarmiento about some of the struggles that our families have and how it has been impacting our enrollment numbers, not only at our center, but at other centers along the East Coast as well. Some of those impacts include: the influx of H2A workers in the community; families settling out and deciding not to travel; and local and national immigration laws that make it harder for families to travel from one state to another comfortably.

Daniel Jaime's interview by Telemundo was aired as part of the story.

Center Director Daniel Jaime’s interview by Telemundo Tampa was aired on February 24.

The story was aired locally on Feb. 24 during the Telemundo Tampa newscast and shared through the news station’s social media. The story can be viewed here. Now that the Tampa community has seen the story, hopefully we can have an influx of families, community stakeholders, and people who are willing to seek employment with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.