Norma Flores López on a Global Stage

Photo of Norma Flores López, Governance and Collaboration/Development Manager at ECMHSP.

In June of 2015, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project lured Norma Flores López away from another wonderful non-profit serving farmworkers, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs in Washington, DC. We brought Norma to ECMHSP so she may work on a number of important priorities here: partnering with Maria Rodriguez and Maria Hernandez in supporting the work of the ECMHSP Policy Council; leading our efforts in collaborating with other organizations through her service to the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Collaboration Advisory Board and as a Board Director to the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association; and broadening our fundraising and grant-writing efforts. Along the way, Norma has created this blog, From Harvest to Head Start, and ECMHSP’s Facebook page.

This week, Norma is featured in an interview by Global March, in connection with her work as a Board member to the Global March Against Child Labour. As she states in her interview:

There is a misconception that child labor is an issue that happens abroad, outside of reach, and Americans remain oblivious to the child labor that is present in their own backyards. More people need to be educated on the human cost of the foods they consume each day, and the exploitation of child labor that is intricately involved in the American food production system.

You can read the full interview on the Global March Against Child Labor website.

We are so fortunate to have such a dynamic leader advocating here in the US and around the world for farmworker families.

Guest Post: Reaching the Top of the Hill

Armando Cendejas is part of the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Program and as a child was enrolled in the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Head Start center in Florida. This is his story.

Armando Cendejas, one of the students selected for the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017, shares his story at the Closing Celebration in Washington, DC.

My name is Armando Cendejas. I am a 20-year-old sophomore attending Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, pursuing a degree in Physical Therapy. My younger brother, Alejandro, and I were enrolled in East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Head Start program as young children. My parents were migrant farmworkers and two of the hardest working individuals I know. They have both shaped me to become the person I am today — a person I am proud to be.

While enrolled in ECMHSP, I was just not taught; I was cared for, I was looked after, I was appreciated. I remember one morning in particular, I began to cry as I watched my mom drive away. I stood at the gate yelling for her until my teacher came to me. She didn’t move me; instead, she comforted me by assuring me that my mom would be back for me at the end of her work day.

It’s unbelievable to think back to my transformation. I went from being the shy, chubby kid who would stand at the gate and cry as he watched his mom get in her car, to now hugging my mom goodbye, and having her be the one to cry as I got on a plane to Washington, DC, for the summer.

My time in Washington, DC, made me realize the potential others have seen in me for years and gave me the opportunity to explore possible careers. I was one of four former Head Start students selected to participate in an internship by the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association for two months. I was placed with the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and was involved in drafting resolutions for their Executive Committee Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. For my hard work and commitment, I am proud to say I was invited to attend this meeting. While in Washington, DC, I also attended US Senate briefings at the Capitol, where I sat and listened to legislators debate topics that were related to my resolutions.

Before the internship, I was set on a career in physical therapy.  The work I have done while in Washington, DC, however, has changed my perspective on my future. I met with a few professors from the Georgetown University Law Center, and after listening to my story and of my work, they strongly urged that I consider an education in law. I now want to apply to law school, specifically Georgetown Law, and study law in health.

At times, it feels like something out of a movie. In movies like Field of Dreams, Remember the Titans, and Forrest Gump, things work out for the protagonist even after all the hardships they had to face for long periods of time. I feel like my life is like that.

Every time I think about the opportunity I was given here, I feel blessed. East Coast Migrant Head Start Project changed my life. The tools and skills that were instilled in me while in the Head Start program have aided me in reaching many goals in life, such as being the first in my family to graduate high school and attend college.

To get to college, it meant I needed to perform at a high level and excel in high school. ECMHSP staff were there to assist me if ever I had issues with studying, or crafting essays, or working on projects. They didn’t do the work for me — they provided tips, support, and even constructive criticism.

Armando on his first day in Washington, DC, along with the other members of the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017.

When I go back to my East Coast Migrant Head Start center in Fort Pierce, I receive the same attention. Many of the teachers, nurses, and staff that were there and cared for me 15 years ago continue to be there and still care. In fact, I regularly would receive phone calls from them asking how I’m doing during my time in Washington D.C. for me to this day. I never take that aspect of ECMHSP for granted. The program continues to open doors for me by nominating me and supporting me during this amazing internship.

As I look forward towards my future, I know ECMHSP will be there to support me. I return to the center often either to volunteer, or to visit my old teachers. And, of course, to visit my mom in her office. My mom started as a field worker, packing citrus, working alongside other women like her. However, my mom had a thirst for knowledge. She taught herself English and earned herself a job inside the Head Start Center. ECMSHP helped her realize her dreams, and now they are helping me realize mine. I’m proud to have been a part of this program.

My mother would always tell me, “Échale ganas.” Only until now do I realize that she saw a bright future for me. It has been tough to get here, but with hard work and persistence, I’ll end up at the top of the hill, where I know I can make a difference in the world.

I believe that I have made the people at my Head Start center proud.

Homecoming 2017: A Trip to a Field of Dreams

About 15 years ago, Priscilla Garza, Cheyla Moranchel, Armando Cendejas, and Juan Rangel were young children enrolled in the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. Priscilla’s MSHS experience was in Texas and Maryland, in programs operated by Teaching and Mentoring Communities and East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Cheyla’s was in Oregon in a MSHS program operated by the Oregon Child Development Coalition, while Armando and Juan both attended ECMHSP’s MSHS center in Fort Pierce, Florida.   This summer, these four MSHS graduates had the opportunity to put all of their intellectual talents to work in Washington, DC, as recipients of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s summer internship program.

NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017 with John Menditto and the Pathstone staff members.

The NMSHSA summer internship program provides paid internships each year for four college students who previously participated in the MSHS program. This is the sixth year that the summer internship program has been in place and 24 MSHS students have now had the opportunity to come to Washington, DC, to live and work. This summer, Priscilla (an aspiring lawyer) worked at the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, and Cheyla worked at Farmworker Justice, where she worked on a variety of farmworker health projects. Armando worked at the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and was involved on issues impacting the Hispanic community, such as healthcare and the environment. And Juan worked at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute where he helped plan and execute a number of special events and projects.

Juan Rangel, a former ECMHSP student enrolled in college, is carrying a little boy from the Fields of Dream Head Start Center.

This past Friday marked the last day of work for the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Class. To mark the occasion, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and our phenomenal delegate agency partner, PathStone Corporation, hosted a homecoming for Priscilla, Cheyla, Armando, and Juan in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where PathStone operates a MSHS center serving hardworking farmworker families.

The NMSHSA Interns were able to learn about the apple harvest in Adams County, PA, during their tour of Rice Fruit Company’s processing plant.

Our day began with a tour of the Adams County MSHS Center, Field of Dreams. There, the summer interns had an opportunity to play with the young children, which led them all to recall their own experience as MSHS students. From there, PathStone employees Carla Herrera, Family Services Coordinator, and Iris Perez, Center Administrator, brought us to Rice Fruit Company’s fruit processing facility, which was just down the road from the center. Leighton Rice and Policy Council member, Fernando Estrada, provided us a thorough education on the harvesting and production of apples and peaches in Adams County. We were particularly inspired by the farmworker moms packing apples, a number of whom came off the production line to thank East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and PathStone for the services we have provided, including two moms whose oldest children were now in college.

Priscilla Garza shares her story at the Field of Dreams center, including her experiences in DC for the summer.

Priscilla, Cheyla, Armando, and Juan’s homecoming was made complete back at Field of Dreams, where PathStone hosted a lunch in their honor. At the outset of the day on the way to PathStone, each of summer interns was asked about their best experience this summer. For some, it involved a work accomplishment; for others it was a particular cultural event. By the end of the day, though, the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Class was unanimous in their assessment: the 2017 Homecoming Visit to the Field of Dreams MSHS Center was the best experience of a summer filled with amazing experiences.

ECMHSP on the West Coast for NMSHSA Conference ‘17

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Annual National Conference in Costa Mesa, CA, from March 5 through March 9. A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to learn about the changes to the Head Start Performance Standards, which were rolled out last summer. It was a great opportunity to hear about implementation strategies and the importance of being outcomes-driven in our execution.

Parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs nationwide, including ECMHSP, gathered to learn about their critical role in our programs.

Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference, most for the first time, were the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee members: Cristina Hernandez, President; Silvia Rodarte, Vice-President; Meiby Mora, Treasurer; Leticia Baez, Secretary; and Ramona C. De Loera, Parliamentarian. These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from indigenous cultures in Mexico to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Meiby was elected as Alternate and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors. Furthermore, Meiby was elected to fill one of the three Member-at-Large positions on the NSMSHA Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. We are very proud to see Meiby’s continued growth and will provide the support she needs as she goes on to represent and lead parents nationwide in the Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Also elected onto the NMSHSA Board of Directors are John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, Patti Kingery, ECMHSP Director of Program Operations-East, and myself. The ECMSHP is honored to bring our perspective from the different levels of our organization as we support the Association’s mission to serve our farmworker families.

Staff and Policy Council members representing ECMHSP at the NMSHSA Conference in California.

Each year, ECMHSP staff are invited to present on best practices and cutting-edge techniques that allow us to provide services of the highest quality. For example, this year, I presented a session entitled, “Head Start Champions: Advocacy for the MSHS Community,” with the assistance of Cristina, the ECMHSP Policy Council President. In the session, Head Start service providers from varying backgrounds and positions learned the basics of advocating for our community and effective strategies. Now more than ever, we need advocates that will help us elevate the successes of our migrant and seasonal Head Start programs.

ECMHSP CEO Dr. Villa (right) discusses national issues affecting ECMHSP programs with COO Javier Gonzalez.

Conference participants were able to listen from the Office of Head Start, with informative presentations from Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII) and other staff from the Office of Head Start. Welcomed by John Menditto at the second day plenary, the conference attendees were inspired by the presentation of Dr. Ramon Resa, the author of Out of the Fields: My Journey from Farmworker Boy to Pediatrician. For the final plenary, I had the pleasure of welcoming the conference attendees before the keynote speaker, Kevin Carnes of Lakeshores Learning Materials, was introduced.

At the conference, ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices to the West Coast. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community!

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.

U.S. Representative Mike Kelly Visits ECMHSP Center in Pennsylvania

Sister Diane Rabe is the Director of Child Development Programs at the Saint Benedict Center. This is her story about the visit of U.S. Representative Mike Kelly.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” — John Maxwell

On Wednesday, October 19, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) visited the Saint Benedict Center, the ECMHSP delegate agency in Erie, Pennsylvania. Leonor Saldaña, the center’s Policy Committee President and member of the ECMHSP Policy Council, visited Representative Kelly’s Capitol Hill office during the National and Seasonal Migrant Head Start Association’s Public Policy Conference last June and invited him to visit the center in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Representative Mike Kelly sits down with children in ECMHSP's Head Start program to read a book.

Representative Mike Kelly sits down with children in ECMHSP’s Head Start program to read a book.

Representative Kelly was greeted at the door and, while touring the center, was given a detailed picture of the ECMHSP’s Head Start program. During his tour, Representative Kelly stopped to read a story to some of the preschoolers,Ten Bright Oranges/Diez Naranjas Brillantes: A Migrant Counting Book,” from the Our Children, Our Families Curriculum, developed by the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project training staff. But, “Mike”, as he directed the children to call him, did much more than read a story. He entered into the life of a migrant worker and made the story real for the children, talking about the fruits and vegetables in the story — “how they were grown, how they were harvested and how they were prepared and served for us to eat?” It was so much more than a counting experience for the children.   He engaged them at their knowledge level and brought in their family experiences, asking who had ever smelled, touched and helped to prepare the fruit/vegetable in the book. He talked about colors, had them counting, and engaged them in thinking by recalling information, making predictions about what produce and number was next. He asked for their opinions: “how many liked apples?” and “what kind?” as he named a variety of kinds. “How many have ever eaten potatoes and how were they prepared: french fries, mashed, boiled?” “Which way do you like them?” “Mike” even told them that he grew up in farm country and talked about his ancestors being potato farmers. It was a magical experience for the children, as 27 of them sat perfectly still for the entire story, counting, exchanging ideas and opinions — and learning along the way!

Representative Kelly addresses farmworker parents about their pressing issues, such as the center's transportation, program funding, and immigration.

Representative Kelly addresses farmworker parents about their pressing issues: the center’s transportation, program funding, and immigration.

Meanwhile, in our meeting area, the parents had prepared a fiesta to share with Representative Kelly as they discussed the life and needs of the migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Erie area. Leonor, the elected President of our parent committee, presented him with a basket of area produce and wine. Representative Kelly was so very personable to each parent, greeting them and inquiring about their families and the specific work they are doing at this time in the harvest. He asked the group about the availability of services and programs focusing on gaining skilled jobs for the “off season” and adult education. He was interested in understanding how the language barrier affected the families in our area.

He chose not to sit at the head table; instead he went to eat with the Aranda, Garnica and Gordillo families at their table. He entered into a deeper conversation with them about their children, plans for when the season ends, their work in the grape crop and, that, for some, it is a year round crop. In the discussion, he asked their opinion about the greatest need for the program. They immediately answered: a new bus! The center’s bus had just broken down that morning. In response, Representative Kelly stood up and asked across the room, “How can we get a bus for you?” He proposed several ideas and said that we would continue to work on the problem in the near future. The parents were amazed that he shared their concern and had some immediate action proposed.

They had two other main areas of concern that surfaced: Head Start program funding and their citizenship. He left his business card for us to contact him with immigration paperwork issues, promising to handle them personally.

Representative Kelly (center) poses next to Leonor Saldaña (left of the Rep. Kelly), president of the Policy Committee, and the center's farmworker parents during his visit.

Representative Kelly (center) poses next to Leonor Saldaña (left of the Rep. Kelly), president of the Policy Committee, and the center’s farmworker parents during his visit.

ECMHSP is appreciative of the time and attention Congressman Kelly demonstrated our farmworker families during his visit to our center. He is definitely,a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

OHS Announces New Head Start Program Performance Standards

On September 1, the Office of Head Start published the final updates to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, which describe what is needed to deliver comprehensive, high-quality individualized services to support the school readiness and healthy development of children from low-income families. According to OHS, the new standards announced last week are the first comprehensive revision of the Head Start Program Performance Standards since they were originally published in 1975.  The final rule aims to capitalize on the advancements in research, available data, as well as input from Head Start grantees and the public input in order to accomplish the critical goal of helping Head Start reach its full potential so that more children reach kindergarten ready to succeed. You can view Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell announce the new rules in the video below.

Head Start grantees and other stakeholders were invited to submit comments on the proposed updates Head Start Program Performance Standards in June 2015 through the OHS notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).  ECMHSP wanted to ensure that our farmworker families were informed about these proposed changes and were given the opportunity to provide meaningful input. After all, as many parents pointed out, they know better than anyone what their needs are, and their children are affected the most by these decisions.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

ECMHSP staff presented the proposed changes to the ECMHSP Policy Council –which is comprised of farmworker parents representing all of our service regions and members of the community– during the Summer Policy Council Orientation and Meeting in August 2015.  Parents from the Policy Council had concerns about the proposed rule changes and wanted their comments to be presented to the OHS.  ECMHSP collected thoughtfully-written comments and passionate audio recordings in which parents shared their support for some of the proposed changes, as well as disagreements with other proposed changes and why they thought it might hurt their programs.

One of the proposed changes that caused the most concern with farmworker parents was the removal of the requirement for each Head Start center to have a parent committee.  Parents worried that some centers would choose to eliminate the parent committee and diminish their role in the Head Start program.  Many of the parents shared how they rely on parent committees to receive in-depth information about their center’s program operations and feel these formal committees are necessary to provide their input.

The collected comments from farmworker parents were shared with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, of which ECMHSP is a member, and helped shape the comments that were submitted to the OHS on behalf of the Association.

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ECMHSP’s Policy Council, comprised of farmworker parents and members of the community, voiced their concerns with the proposed Head Start Performance Standards.

After reviewing the final changes to the Head Start Program Performance Standards, ECMHSP is pleased to see the OHS recognized the concerns and comments of Head Start parents, and even referenced to their comments in the publishing of the final rule. Thanks to the active participation of our farmworker parents, parent committees will remain a required mandate for every Head Start program. Agencies will retain the parents’ critical decision-making role as leaders in the program governance and operations. Parents voiced their support for other changes in the new Head Start Performance Standards as well, including the discretion to allow members of the Policy Council to serve a maximum of five one-year terms, up from the current maximum of three one-year terms.

The new Head Start Program Performance Standards outline improvements to ensure:

  • effective teaching and learning in the Head Start classrooms;
  • expanded time for learning and healthy development;
  • strengthened and comprehensive Head Start services and family engagement;
  • the health and safety of Head Start Children; and
  • effective management and continuous improvement of Head Start programs.

We are grateful to all of our Policy Council members that provided us with their concerns, submitted their thoughts on the issues, and shared their stories from their community. Our parents’ voice is a critical component to ECMHSP success and played a central role in the comments submitted to the OHS.

You can read the Head Start Program Performance Standards final rule here.hs-perf-standards-graphic