By Susan Riddell
Two years ago, Judy Wood, a migrant education advocate for the McLean County school district, met a young Mexican mother of two.
The mother had struggled to make it to the United States for many years.
Sometimes, she worked in tobacco, or she sorted eggs for nine hours a day.
“Her hands would grow numb from hours of sorting eggs,” Wood said, noting that the woman often worked in a cold, damp environment. “She continued to support her children. She worked nights and on Saturdays cleaning houses to make extra money.”
The mother is still working hard to support her children, but so is Kentucky’s Migrant Education Program (MEP), a federally-funded program designed to provide supplementary education and resources.
“Our program has helped her find a new place to live,” Wood said. “The children now have their own bedroom.
“The migrant program collaborates with other school programs and community agencies to supplement the basic needs such as food, clothing and school supplies,” Wood added. “Most importantly, we helped (the mother) find hope and encouragement to find a new life.”
The mothers’ two children currently are among the 4,125 migrant students in Kentucky, according to Christina Benassi, identification and recruitment coordinator for the Migrant Education Program.
Benassi said children age 3 to 21 are eligible for the program, depending on the migrant lifestyle of the parent/guardian.
“Most of the migrant students are here because they have a parent who is working seasonal employment,” Benassi said. “A lot of these jobs involve tobacco and other farm products.”
Kentucky is divided into four migrant regions. In those four regions, there are 45 school districts, which each has its own migrant program. Throughout the state, there are advocates like Wood, and each of the four regions has a coordinator.
Wood said the MEP is in place to “ensure students moving among the state aren’t penalized in any curriculum, graduation requirements and state academic content and achievement standards.
“(We) design programs to help migrant children with cultural and language barriers, social isolation, various health-related problems and other factors that inhibit their ability to do well in school,” Wood added. “We want to prepare them to make a successful transition to post-secondary education or employment.”
Bill Thompson is the northeast regional coordinator. That region spans from Trimble to Powell counties.
He and Benassi agreed that if a teacher is questioning whether or not a student should be recruited by the MEP, the teacher should contact a district advocate.
“We try to notify on Infinite Campus,” Benassi said. “Teachers can look at the MSIX, which is the national database. That keeps track of what tests they’ve taken and course history. From there, they can see if a child has had immunizations. This child may have taken a math test but failed it in Texas, so math should be a focus with the student here, in Kentucky. MSIX will show enrollment pattern, what schools they’ve been in and how long they’ve been in different schools, too.”
“The advocates try to find out as much as they can about the child by talking with the previous school district the child was enrolled in and their parents/guardians,” Wood said.
Thompson said it’s difficult to determine how migrant students impact state assessments.
“A lot are not tested regularly,” he said. “This is something we’re looking more into now, but a lot of testing information on students is anecdotal. We are dealing with students who may be in a district for a few months or even a few weeks.”
Some migrant students are listed as priority for service (PFS).”
“That’s where the funding comes in,” Benassi said. “That’s typically based on their mobility, so the students who move around have a gap in their schooling, and that’s the whole purpose of the migrant education program.”
Migrant education funds only can be used for migrant students, Benassi said, and these funds can go toward backpacks, school supplies and other educational items.
“Schools can’t buy computers for the classroom and all the kids use them,” Benassi said. “It has to be just the migrant students.”
During the school year, tutoring is offered to migrant students, and summer programs are another way to reach these students.
This past summer, Carolyn Ferrell, western Kentucky regional coordinator, was heavily involved with summer programs that offered unique opportunities to migrant students.
“I handled snakes, listened to original country songs, studied raptors and lots more,” Ferrell said. “Kids in every program were engaged in learning and having fun.
“Our western Kentucky district programs went by the summer guidelines,” Ferrell added. “Next summer, those guidelines will be strengthened by increasing the number of hours to move closer to what research says is needed for a (more) positive impact.”
McLean County had an overnight trip to Land Between the Lakes for preschool through high school students and their parents. “We participated in hand-on activities at each of the nature stations,” Wood said. “It was a great time to bond with parents and introduce them to ways to enhance their child’s education.”
Thompson’s region held a summer three-day event for migrant students in grades 6-8 at General Butler State Park. Students went on hikes and participated in other science, reading and mathematics activities.
“These are great opportunities for these students,” Thompson said. “They are fairly intensive and a chance for these students to experience something a little different.
“The work we do is really rewarding,” Thompson added. “We’re here to help these students and families, and the technical assistance we provide is all about serving these children and making sure they get the educational experience they need.”
Christina Benassi, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 564-3791
Carolyn Ferrell, email@example.com (270) 824-1897
Bill Thompson, firstname.lastname@example.org, (606) 876-2014
Judy Wood, email@example.com, (270) 273-0065