Celebrating the New Jennings Head Start Center

John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, with Lou Struble and Gaby Procacci of Procacci Brothers farms, which employs many of the farmworker families served by the center.

On July 14, ECMHSP celebrated the Jennings (Florida) Early Head Start center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Jennings staff and the Early Head Start staff did an amazing job of hosting this special event. We had a number of important visitors attend the ceremony and tour the center, including Lamar Hill and his daughter Lisa, who made the land available to us for the center; staffers from Senator Bill Nelson’s office and Congressman Lawson’s office, who were invited by parent, Vianey Lopez; Gaby Procacci and Lou Struble from Procacci Brothers in Philadelphia, who employs farmworkers who are served at the center; and Alma Young and other individuals with connections of the migrant farmworker families in Lake Park, Georgia.

Javier Gonzalez, ECMHSP Chief Operations Officer, welcomes guests to the center.

Our celebration on Friday was the culmination of many years of hard work by many, many people.   And whenever we accomplish anything truly remarkable, the heavy lifting is done at the local level.   By our local staff, by the local community, and by our local farmworker parents.   And that is true here. Friday was a day to recognize and celebrate the hard work and sacrifice of the Jennings community that made our Head Start center possible.

The story of our Jennings Early Head Start Center begins 300 miles to our south — in Lakeland, Florida. It’s there that ECMHSP Florida staff members Angel Casiano, Dora Sanders, and Marilyn Torres work.

In July of 2014, when it was first announced that competitive proposals were being accepted for the expansion of Head Start services to farmworker families, Angel, Dora and Marilyn met to evaluate what locations to include in an expansion proposal.   I wasn’t present when they met, but I imagine there must’ve have been some nervousness in the room when they discussed whether to include Jennings in the Early Head Start expansion proposal.   They knew the need for our services was great, but they also knew the degree of difficulty of serving farmworker families here would be immense:

How would the center be built?

How would they transport the children?

How would they staff the center?

Fortunately for us, Angel, Dora and Marilyn did not shy away from enormity of this task. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves, wrote the community assessment that would the basis of the application, and put their faith in the fact that ECMHSP has a long-history of doing hard things.

So, how would the center be built? At ECMHSP, we believe our farmworker families deserve the very best centers and when we build, we are going to build beautiful.   Building beautiful requires two things – an architect with a vision for exquisite design and builders with the ability to turn that design into reality.

Ted Hoffman is an architect with a vision for beauty and all that you see here was designed by Ted – from the classroom space to the courtyard. We thank Ted for insisting that our children and families deserve the very best.

Lamar and Lisa Hill were recognized during the ceremony for providing the land the center was built on.

But Ted’s vision would be nothing but lines on paper, if he did not have a team of builders to support him. And fortunately for Ted, and fortunately for us, we had a phenomenal team of builders. Paul Tansill works for the modular building company that executed Ted’s vision. We are so appreciative of Paul’s work. The classrooms and the buildings are fantastic. Mike Wilcox led the ECMHSP facilities team during the build. That entailed countless days, weeks and months of personal sacrifice as Mike made Jennings his second home. Mike recently retired, which could have been a disaster for ECMHSP, but for the fact that Mike had mentored Greg Stone to step into his shoes. Greg has continued the phenomenal work that Mike was known for and ECMHSP has not missed a beat.

How would children be transported? School bus transportation requires an attention to detail and an attention to safety. For the past 15 years, East Coast has been blessed to have its school bus transportation services led by Charles Leach, a man whose dedication to safety has resulted in a remarkable record: during the last 15 years, ECMHSP has zero at-fault road accidents. But as good as Charles is, he can accomplish nothing without the work and dedication of dedicated transportation staff like Alex Retana and Christina Arnold in Jennings.

The new ECMHSP Jennings Early Head Start Center in Florida.

How would the center be staffed? The Jennings center opened for the season with 22 children on May 17 and enrollment quickly rose to 69 children as farmworkers arrived from points south to work in the tomato fields. Then, children and families moved north to Cedarville, New Jersey, and Leland, North Carolina, and enrollment reduced to 34. In a few weeks, farmworkers and their children will return from the north and our enrollment will rise again to 50 or so.   Can you imagine the degree of difficulty of staffing a center under such circumstances?   At times, I think of the Jennings center staff as being performers on a tightrope suspended 100 yards above the Jennings tomato fields.

Vianey Lopez, Head Start parent, cut the ribbon surrounded by the center staff and guests.

We are so fortunate that each of our staff members have been willing to sacrifice so much to make this center one of our very best centers. The Early Head Start staff do walk a tightrope. But there is a net, created by the administrative support, governance and program support team members.  We are so grateful for each of them and their hard work.

There is an additional piece of the puzzle that we are thankful for.  From its inception, the Head Start program recognized that parents were the first and best teachers of their children.  Based upon this recognition, Head Start programs work hand-in-hand with parents of children enrolled in the center to design the services offered. This work is done through a parent committee, which is comprised of all the parents whose children attend the center.

Jennings Center Parent Committee President Vianey Lopez presenting remarks at the ceremony.

The president of the parent committee at the Jennings center is Vianey Lopez.  During the ceremony, she gave moving remarks on behalf of the parents of the Jennings community before cutting the ribbon. When we think back to why we do this difficult work, Vianey reminded us with the following words:

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project has relieved a lot of worries and stress from the families, because now with this center, we know that our children are learning in a safe environment.

Our Excellent Adventure with OHS

Debbie and Takila at the Newton Grove community lunch.

Debbie Youhouse and Takila Newkirk are two of the unsung heroes of the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) program. Debbie works as a Program Specialist with the Office of Head Start, where she is responsible for overseeing the program services of eight MSHS grantees, including East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Takila works as a Grants Specialist with the Office of Head Start, where she is responsible for managing and overseeing the funding awards for many MSHS and American Indian grantees. This week, ECMHSP had the opportunity to host Debbie and Takila as they visited our program.

Ignacia Gonzalez with her beautiful daughter at the Jennings Early Head Start Center in Florida.

Debbie and Takila’s excellent adventure began at our new Early Head Start expansion center in Jennings, Florida. The center looked spectacular and all of the staff were knowledgeable, warm, and welcoming. Debbie and Takila offered nothing but praise for everything they saw — from the design and layout of the classrooms to the shiny school bus filled with children going home for the day!

Vianey Lopez, President of the Parent Committee, and Ignacia Gonzalez, the Vice-President of the Parent Committee, were phenomenal hosts and tour guides. We visited the grape tomato fields and Vianey and Ignacia shared stories about their work in the fields. Vianey amazed us all as she described how peaceful it was to ride the unpaved back roads late at night and stop alongside the tomato fields and look up at the stars. Vianey also took us to the Budget Lodge motel and the North Florida Inn to see how difficult the living conditions are for our farmworker families.

Debbie Youhouse and the St. Helena team. (Photo Credit: Takila Newkirk)

On day two, Debbie and Takila drove with me four hours across the state of Georgia and then north to St. Helena Island, South Carolina. It was wonderful to see all the smiling faces once we arrived — whether they be young children or our staff (so many of whom had relocated from Florida). ECMHSP staff members Michael Edmonds and Patricia Lanuza, and Policy Council Member, Meiby Mora Soto, provided us with an excellent visit to the local farmworker camps. Again, seeing the living conditions of our farmworker families was an education for us all. One of the center moms invited us in to see inside her home, including the poster she and her husband made of their dreams for their future together, which they display proudly.

A farmworker mom shares her family’s dreams with us at the Bayview Camp in St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

A poster of dreams from Guatemala to the United States to the future.

Day three found us in Newton Grove, North Carolina, where the center looked marvelous. We arrived in time to be with the preschool children as they enjoyed their lunch. The children were so happy with their teachers and their plates of chicken, zucchini and pineapple. We concluded our visit with a community partners lunch. To have two hours to simply share the ways our program works hand-in-hand with our health partner, early intervention partner, and other community partners was so enlightening for everyone. Also, we were thrilled to hear the success story of Isabel Najera, whose children attended the Newton Grove Center more than 20 years ago and who have grown up to enjoy meaningful professional careers.

A nutritious and fun lunch in the Newton Grove Head Start Center preschool classroom.

Our final day with Debbie and Takila involved a visit to the ECMHSP headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, including observing the work at the organization’s Manual Crosswalk. While the final day lacked the joy of children, it was very informative for our guests to see how our administrative team supports the work of center operations.

All in all, it was an excellent visit for Debbie and Takila. We are so grateful for everyone who hosted us, especially our amazing parents.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Guest Post: Success Doesn’t Fall from the Sky

Misael Rangel is part of the 2016 NMSHSA Summer Internship Program and as a child was enrolled in the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Head Start center in Florida. This is his story.

My name is Misael Rangel. I was born and raised in Fort Pierce, Florida. I am the son of Teresa and Ignacio Rangel, who immigrated to this country in search of a better life by escaping the poverty of their hometown in Guanajuato, Mexico. When they arrived in Florida, my father began work picking oranges. After I was born, we began to migrate to North Carolina, where my father also picked tobacco.

While in Fort Pierce, I was enrolled in East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Program. My time there was brief, yet it made a huge impact: my siblings and I were able to learn English. In my earliest memories, I remember understanding and speaking both English and Spanish. In a home where Spanish was the only language spoken, the only way I would have learned English so well and so early was through this program. Knowing English helped me in elementary school. Going into kindergarten and grade school knowing English provided a smooth transition; there was no language barrier to prevent communication. I was on the same playing field as my classmates and I even excelled, getting placed into gifted classes early in grade school. It also helped my family because so many times, we found ourselves as little translators for my parents. My parents tell me they too were learning English through us, their kids.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff at this year's Spring meeting.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff at this year’s Spring meeting.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project also brought education into perspective for my parents, as it has for countless of other parents of this program. Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of an education to us. They understood the power an education could have in changing our lives, and I knew they wanted a better life for me and my siblings — not a life littered with the type of suffering they had gone through. My dad never finished the equivalent of middle school in Mexico; and my mother did go on to finish the equivalent of high school, but that is where her education ended. In a new country with no prior knowledge of the U.S. education system, and still learning English themselves, school was not a place where my parents could provide us with guidance. You see, there was a road my siblings and I had to pave for ourselves. We were all learning together as we went through school. Thanks to the ECMHSP program, a fire was lit inside of me in at an early age — the fire that created a thirst for a better life and has become my determination to pursue my higher education.

Once my older sister started elementary school, we settled in Fort Pierce, where my father continued to work in tomato fields, later in a nursery, and eventually in landscaping. Growing up in the farmworker community, I learned the ever-important value of hard work. As my dad would tell me, “The food on your table doesn’t just fall from the sky.” With this always on my mind, I have never taken my studies lightly. I have seen day in and day out the hard labor that my parents have worked in and I know there is something I can do to help them. Growing up, it was hard to stay focused; college was not a path that my family had taken before. At times, it seemed like such a distant, unattainable goal. Nevertheless, I pressed on. I am proud to say I graduated high school in the top ten of my class, with my diploma from the International Baccalaureate program.

Misael graduated in the top 10 percent of his high school class and earned an IB diploma.

Misael graduated in the top 10 percent of his high school class and earned an IB diploma.

Today I attend the University of Central Florida where I am pursuing my degree in Civil Engineering, with a minor in Information Technology. One day, as a civil engineer, I will do what I can to make this world a safe place; for me that means being involved in the construction of our nation’s infrastructure, which needs to be renewed. There are new implications to take into consideration especially with the impact of humanity as a whole on the environment. With that in mind, there is no telling where my work will take me. I hope I can one day serve as an example to kids that went through what I did, that perhaps do not see education as an avenue for them, and let them know that it really is.

Misael was selected from a national pool of college students who were formerly enrolled in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Misael was selected from a national pool of college students who were formerly enrolled in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Earlier this year, I was selected from applicants across the country to be in the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s summer internship program. This is an opportunity the Association makes possible for college students that have gone through the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program, and it is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for kids like us. This internship makes it possible for us to work at a site fitting to our studies. This summer I am interning at the Hispanic Communication Network, where I am learning different aspects of business and the industry side of IT! The opportunities and networks that I can make here are endless, and this is really a life-changing opportunity.

If there is one thing that I hope anyone can take away from my story it is to not be afraid. I want our farmworker youth to not be afraid to pursue their dreams. But in order for them to achieve their dreams, they need the push. Sometimes, the push may need to come from an outside helping hand. For me, that hand continues to be ECMHSP. I also want our country to support farmworker families like mine, because at the end of the day, it is their hard work that puts that food on the table. Like my dad says, “It doesn’t just fall from the sky.”