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.

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.

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.]

It Takes A Village – And Then Some!

Establishing Head Start services in a local community is one of the most challenging and fascinating journeys we take at ECMHSP.  It involves the coming together of talented and dedicated folks from a wide variety of disciplines, and it involves countless hours of strategizing, planning, and very hard work.

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Young girl playing and learning in an ECMHSP Head Start classroom in Florida.

On February 5, members of our Board of Directors had the opportunity to meet many of these talented and dedicated folks when they visited two of our three Early Head Start expansion sites in Florida.  We began the day in Wauchula, where we visited our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center and checked in on the construction status of our EHS addition.  We were greeted at Wauchula by Center Director Leti Enriquez and her core team of Sheana Hamilton, Elizabeth Arcelay, Marlen Zavala, Tina Cortez, Rosa Perez, Mariela Camarillo, and Jean Palmer, who shared with our Board the center’s services and accomplishments.  The Board was able to meet our dedicated teachers and learn about their work, while also visiting with our young children.  ECMHSP Facilities Manager Mike Wilcox and architect Ted Hoffman shared an update on the EHS addition we are completing at Wauchula, followed by a gourmet-quality lunch for everyone from Chef Brian Moore, center cook, and his supporting cast of Mary O’Neal and Juanita Perez.

From Wauchula, the Board traveled to Palmetto to learn about the phenomenal work being accomplished at our new site at the Palm View Elementary School.   Three parents from the center’s Parent Committee — Livina Aguilar, President; Evidencia Ventura, Vice President; and Cecilia Cedillo, Officer Alternate — took the lead in showing off the new center.  Their sense of pride was clear and inspiring, as was the pride of all of the dedicated Head Start staff who have made this new center such a success:  Estela Tapia, Edna Gracia, Dora Santana, Sherry Bauer, Linda Cornelius, Ingrid Rivera, Nancy Romero, Arlene Torres, Mariel Gonzalez, Enrique Torres, Kim Luna, Darleen Schaible Jorge Velazquez, Suzanne Jessamyn, Annette Betts, Mariely Rivera, and Angel Casiano.  But the best part of the educational adventure may have been the smiling faces of the children.

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One of the children served by the ECMHSP Head Start centers in Florida.

Our newest Head Start center is under construction just four hours away in Hamilton County, near the Florida/Georgia state line.  While the Board was unable to visit the site, Mike Wilcox and Ted Hoffman are working tirelessly to ensure our new center is one that we can be proud of.  The modular units have been delivered and set and work has begun in earnest to finish the project before the migrant farmworker families arrive for the tomato harvest in mid-May.  This week, Mariely Rivera, Early Head Start Administrator, brings members of her core team to Hamilton County for interviews of potential staff, as well as important meetings with key partners such as the Hamilton County School District, Florida Migrant Education, and the local migrant health program.

Our growing success has been made possible through the support and partnership of our Board of Directors, our Policy Council, our dedicated staff, and the local communities in which our centers operate. Our hearts are full of gratitude to our village – and then some!

The Results are In! Announcing Our Blog Name

Last week, we sent out a poll to the ECMSHP community to help us choose a name for our ECMHSP Blog. With a majority of votes, we had a clear winner. ECMHSP’s blog will now be called: From Harvest to Head Start.

Our new blog name represents the services and support ECMHSP has been providing our farmworker families for more than thirty years: from the fields and orchards where they perform back-breaking work to feed America, to the Head Start centers where we provide their children with high-quality early childhood education. As stated in our mission, we are committed to preparing the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers for success, and our blog name reflects how our commitment goes beyond the classroom.

We want to thank everyone that voted for a name for the ECMSHP blog. We had great participation and feedback from ECMSHP staff, as well as members of the Board of Directors and Policy Council.

We especially want to thank those that submitted name suggestions. We will be saving these creative titles for future ECMSHP reports and projects. Here are a few of our favorite write-in votes:

  • The Daily Harvest
  • ¡Pequeños Éxitos!
  • Heads Up with Head Start

With the new name comes a new blog design, and many new exciting features. These steps are part of our efforts to amplify our voice on behalf of the farmworker families we serve.

Please follow our blog to stay up to date with the latest ECMHSP news and action alerts. If you have not done so already, check out our latest blog post by Dr. Jose S. Villa, CEO of ECMHSP. By sharing our posts with your network, you can help us raise awareness on the pressing issues in the farmworker community.

Stay connected! We have much more to come!