Philadelphia Inspires the New ECMHSP Policy Council

ECMHSP welcomed a new Policy Council in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of America. During the week of August 13 through August 18, parents representing all of the ECMHSP Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs gathered for the annual orientation, the election of the new Policy Council Executive Committee and the Policy Council meeting.

The week began with a meeting of the outgoing Policy Council Executive Committee on Sunday afternoon, at which the elected parent leaders reviewed the state of the Policy Council and the orientation plans for the week. ECMHSP is so proud of the leadership displayed by the Executive Committee throughout their year of service and thanks them for the active participation in ensuring ECMHSP Head Start services are of the highest quality.

ECMSHP Board Member Juvencio Rocha Peralta is learning about Policy Council Member Silvia Rodarte’s personal story.

On Monday morning, ECMHSP’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jose Villa welcomed the Policy Council to the orientation session and shared his passion for the organization and his personal commitment to the farmworker families we serve. New and returning Policy Council members were then given the opportunity to get to know each other through introductions and icebreaker activities. John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, provided the Policy Council members with an overview of the Head Start program, its history and explained the program’s funding.

The morning concluded with a guest speaker, Maria Adame. Maria was formerly a farmworker parent who received Head Start services through ECMHSP delegate agency, Pathstone Corporation, in Pennsylvania. During her time at ECMHSP, she actively participated in its governance as the elected Policy Council President and member of the ECMHSP Board of Directors. Maria shared with the group that as a result of her involvement with ECMHSP, she experienced tremendous personal growth and was able to find inspiration to pursue her dreams. She is currently enrolled in college and is now the Family Services Coordinator at Pathstone Corporation.

Former Policy Council Member Maria Adame shares her journey with Head Start parents.

The afternoon’s orientation session was led by the returning Policy Council members with the support of the Governance Department staff. They were able to share information about the role and responsibilities Policy Council members, often times including examples from their personal experience. The new members were able to comfortably ask questions from the fellow parents and receive relevant information by people that understood their daily challenges.

Tuesday was filled with presentations from ECMHSP staff that covered important topics, such as school readiness, quality assurance of our services, the selection criteria for qualifying families, and the policies and procedures for governance. These sessions provided he Policy Council members with detailed information needed to execute their responsibilities in a meaningful way.

The afternoon presented an exciting learning opportunity for the Policy Council members. Philadelphia has a number of important historical sites that mark the birth of the nation and remind us of the importance of active participation in the decision-making of our country’s policies. At their tour of Independence Hall, Head Start parents were able to learn about the start of the United States government and how many of the important decisions were made. Afterwards, they visited the Liberty Bell and learned about the American values of freedom, liberty and equality – all which are needed for a successful term on the Policy Council.

ECMHSP welcomes the new Policy Council, which poses with the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

The following day, Policy Council members participated in roundtable discussions on the important work done at the Policy Council Standing Committees: Planning, Child Heath and Development, Governance, and Fiscal. The orientation information of these committees were provided by the ECMHSP management staff that provide support at the committee meetings. They allowed Head Start parents to have more face time with personnel and get their questions answered.

Policy Council members ran and voted for this years leaders of the Executive Committee.

In the afternoon, Policy Council members were able to put into practice many of the things they learned during their visits to Philadelphia’s historical sites. We were able to witness democracy in action as the Policy Council elected its new leaders into the Executive Committee from a record-breaking number of candidates.

This year’s Policy Council Executive Committee includes: Meiby Mora, representing Virginia region, as President; Ramona C. De Loera, representing Florida Western region, as Vice-President; Leticia Baez Mellado, representing delegate agency Pathstone Corporation, as Treasurer; Silvia Morales, representing Florida Eastern region, as Secretary; Fernando Estrada, representing delegate agency Pathstone Corporation, as Parliamentarian; Patricia Miranda, representing South Carolina region, as Direct Services Member at Large; and Maria T. Reyes, representing delegate agency Benedictine Sisters of Erie, as Delegate Agency Member at Large.

New Policy Council members were able to learn about their roles and responsibilities from the ECMHSP staff and returning Policy Council members.

Following an exciting election, Policy Council members were able to learn the important work the ECMHSP Fiscal Department does to ensure our Head Start fund policies and processes are in compliance with the Office of Head Start, and the important role parents play in the process. They were also informed on ways they can be involved in ECMHSP’s Human Resources processes and the support the organization provides to help farmworker parents achieve their dreams.

The week concluded with the new Policy Council putting into practice the lessons they learned at the orientation sessions. They actively participated in the committee meetings on Thursday, where recommendations for the Policy Council were shaped after much discussion and thoughtful consideration. The new Executive Committee then led a very successful Policy Council on Friday, at which they voted on the important recommendations received from the committees.

The 2017-18 ECMHSP Policy Council at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

ECMHSP would like to give a very special thank you to the Policy Council members that made the time to participate in the orientation week to learn about their important role in our governance. Their active participation and passion for high-quality services for their children were truly inspiring, especially in such an important city for democracy and governance. We wish them much success as they start their term!

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.

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.”

Guest Post: Education Starts with the Very Young

Dr. David Conde is the President for North America of the Chamber of the Americas. He currently serves as the President of the ECMHSP Board of Directors and is a contributing writer for La Voz Bilingüe. This is his latest article.

For me, my early educational journey was a messy business with many stops and starts as we traveled the migrant and seasonal work route around the country. We could not start the school until well into the academic year and had to leave early to start again working the fields from state to state.

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As a child, Dr. David Conde struggled to succeed in the classroom due to his family’s migrant lifestyle; he brings these personal experiences into the ECMSHP Board of Directors meetings.

So, I did not have to imagine what that did to my academic progress and the future probability of not finishing K-12 and becoming another statistic. To this day, I cherish the memory of being able to stay in one place for the time it took to start and finish junior high school.

Fortunately, I was a lucky migrant child of a mother who had an 8th grade education and taught me to read and write in the evenings after work. I remember skipping block lettering and learning to write in cursive in English and Spanish because that was the way she taught me.

The most interesting and at times, glamorous part of my student journey was at the universities that I attended and the class discussions about meaningful subjects for a scholar. It was also in higher education that I learned that by the age of six a child has acquired most of the learning components and concepts that are the basis for the intellectual awareness that will follow the rest of the life experience.

It dawned on me that K-12 and the college experience was really an elaboration of the basic structures acquired during the pre-K years. I realized that the time spent with my mom in the early years as an infant and toddler learning about letters and stories were fundamental to what I became as a learned person.

Today we have early childhood institutions that are vital learning centers to the very young. The most important for children of families with scarce means is Head Start, a federal program chartered to address the important early childhood years.

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Children of farmworker families are able to play and learn in ECMHSP’s Head Start centers located along the East Coast, from Lake Okeechobee, Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania.

Dearest to my heart in this area is East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, a program that serves over three thousand children of migrant worker families along an agricultural route from Florida to Pennsylvania as they harvest the food we put on the table every day. The initiative takes children from six weeks to five years of age and puts them on an intellectual journey in two languages that prepares them for the public schools at the Kindergarten level.

Dr Conde - PC Oct 6

As President, Dr. David Conde leads the ECMSHP Board of Directors in making important decisions on how to best serve the migrant farmworker community.

My colleagues and myself on the board of directors look forward to every report on the progress of the effort and try to find additional ways to enrich the experience of everyone from the staff to the children and parents so that the East Coast award-winning effort makes the biggest difference in the lives of is an important part of the next generation of Americans. Advocacy for these economically challenged and mostly Latino families is an imperative as it is the genius in these children that will find a place in the future leadership of a country that is changing as we speak.

When we visit our schools and centers, we see those eager faces that absorb so much of the Head Start experience. Parents help guide that experience as they take time out of work to partner with staff and other policy makers to make the effort work.

Spending time with these parents reminds me of my mother and the care she took of me in the fields and in our temporary homes. In this case however, there is help in learning the ABCs.

[Published in La Voz Bilingüe on August 10, 2016.]

Guest Post: In the Interest of Children

Holly Strait is the Senior Director Child & Family Development Services at PathStone Corporation. This is her experience at the Field of Dreams Head Start Center’s opening day.

On July 12, the Adams County Family Development Field of Dreams Head Start center opened on a hot and humid day to 24 appreciative farmworker families. Parents were comfortable leaving their children in a familiar setting as they headed off to pick, pack, and process peaches.

Farmworkers enroll their children for Head Start services at the Field of Dreams center.

Farmworkers enroll their children for Head Start services at the Field of Dreams center.

As one family member said, “The classrooms look very nice and I feel safe in leaving my child at the center while I am at work.”

As children and families found their way to their assigned classroom, teachers were there to greet them with a smile and a hug on the first day of school. The classrooms filled up with children, and teachers were ready to implement activity plans. Old and new friends were curious to explore all the new exciting classroom furnishings and materials that were purchased prior to opening day. The teachers saw how all 32 enrolled children were laughing and looking ahead.

Through the course of the past few months, administrators interviewed and hired new teachers for the center. Staff participated in planning meetings, pre-service trainings, community events, and partnership-building activities to prepare for a successful opening day.

For more than 20 years, PathStone Corporation, a delegate agency of ECMHSP, has been able to provide high-quality childcare to children and their families while parents harvest fruits for the Adams County community. The Field of Dreams Head Start center is surrounded by peach and apple orchards in a growing Hispanic community. The center is expected to meet their full funded enrollment of 60 children by the end of August.

On average, the Field of Dreams farmworker families work from sun up to sun down, yet they find time to participate at the center. Over the course of four months during which the center is in operation, families volunteer on average more than 1,000 hours in total.

The sound of children's voices and laughter fill the classrooms on opening day.

The sound of children’s voices and laughter fill the classrooms on opening day.

As the children left the center at the end of the day, they exclaimed to their parents in a fun way, “I can’t wait to come back and play another day!”

Happy harvesting to all, and to all a prosperous Fall.

NMSHSA’s 8th Public Policy Forum

Last week, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its 8th annual Public Policy Forum in Washington, DC on June 6.  ECMHSP staff and parents from the Policy Council advocated for the needs of the farmworker families served by our centers along the East Coast throughout the forum and on Capitol Hill.

On June 4, prior to the forum, parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs from across the country received training on how to participate in Capitol Hill visits with their congressional representatives.  They also participated in a workshop on how to share with policy leaders their personal experiences and the issues that matter to their communities.  During the afternoon, the parents received training on the DACA program from Farmworker Justice, at which they learned about deferred action, eligibility for the program, how to find immigration resources in their community, and how to avoid fraudulent immigration practices.

President of the NMSHSA Parent Affiliates and parents from the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Program share ideas on a panel discussion.

President of the NMSHSA Parent Affiliates and parents from the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Program share ideas on a panel discussion.

The NMSHSA Public Policy Forum was a historic event. For the first time, NMSHSA collaborated with the National Indian Head Start Association to bring together both communities to discuss the state of affairs in their communities and the policies needed to address their needs.  Parents from the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs were able to learn from and share ideas with parents from the American Indian and Alaskan Native Head Start program through panel discussion and hallway conversations.

The highlight of the forum took place on June 7, when staff and parents from both Head Start programs visited the Congressional delegations on Capitol Hill to educate them on the importance of Head Start services for our communities.  In total, ECMHSP completed 14 visits to Congressional offices, including a meeting with Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania’s Third Congressional District.  During the visit, Leonor Saldaña, ECMHSP Policy Council member from Erie, Pennsylvania, shared her personal story with Representative Kelly and explained how her family has benefitted

ECMHSP parents and staff visit members of Congress to educate them on the benefits of Head Start programs for the farmworker community.

ECMHSP parents and staff visit members of Congress to educate them on the benefits of Head Start programs for the farmworker community.

from the Head Start services provided by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, an ECMHSP delegate agency.  Representative Kelly, as well as Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey accepted invitations to visit our centers in their districts this summer.

The NMSHSA Public Policy Forum concluded with a Hill reception that evening, at which parents and staff from the Head Start programs had an opportunity to interact with staff from the Congressional offices.

ECMSHP staff and parents are proud to have led in the advocacy efforts for our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program in the nation’s capital. We will continue to voice the needs and the contributions of our farmworker communities from Lake Okeechobee,

Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania. To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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.