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.”

Opening Day at the Bladen Center!

Patti Kingery is the Head Start Administrator for ECMHSP’s Direct Services in  North Carolina. This is her experience on opening day at a one of our centers. 

After another successful planning season, ECMHSP’s Bladen Head Start Center, located in Ivanhoe, North Carolina, opened its doors on Wednesday, May 18, marking the beginning of its seventh season. Approximately 80 children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers are expected to be served at the Bladen Center this summer, while their parents work in the blueberry fields and packing houses.

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

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

“I’m excited about the first day,” said one teacher. “After all the planning and training, I’m looking forward to working with the kids again.”

Families began arriving at the center around 6:45 a.m. on this cool and rainy morning. Teachers greeted each child by name and welcomed them to their classroom. Within an hour or so, the Center was bustling with lots of energy and excitement.

Preschool children were singing songs, playing with new toys, and learning their classmates’ names. Small groups of children were working with teachers on alphabet letters and reading books; other groups were practicing writing letters and drawing shapes. The kitchen staff prepared yummy meals & snacks that the toddlers, in particular, devoured after a busy morning filled with play and learning.

Children enjoy delicious and healthy snacks prepared by our kitchen staff.

Children enjoy delicious and healthy snacks prepared by our kitchen staff.

Studies show that, on average, by the time children of low income families enter kindergarten, they already face a significant gap in literacy skills — a gap that often continues to widen as children get older. At East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, staff understand that closing that gap begins with good instruction and engaging activities that begin on day one.

Meanwhile, in another building, Family Services and Health staff from three centers in North Carolina continued assisting new parents with completing applications for Head Start services. The North Carolina – Direct Services team works together each season to ensure children are able to get enrolled as quickly as possible, given the large number of families arriving in the area around the same time. Parents filled the offices and covered decking areas as they completed the necessary activities to get their children enrolled in the Bladen Center.

Parents are assisted by bilingual staff to enroll their children in our Head Start services.

Parents are assisted by bilingual staff to enroll their children in our Head Start services.

One parent remarked to a staff person, “My child was so excited when we told him that we’re going back to North Carolina. He loves this center!”

It is an exciting time to be at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Similar scenes can be experienced in ECMHSP Head Start centers across North Carolina and other states as centers welcome our families back. It is an honor and a privilege to serve farmworker families by caring for and educating their children while they harvest the fruits and vegetables we enjoy every day.

Singing, dancing, and playing games filled the morning schedule.

Singing, dancing, and playing games filled the morning schedule.

To see a full list of the locations of ECMHSP Head Start centers, 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.