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Migrant summer education program prepares students for fall enrollment

Divided into groups, students crowd around tables collaborating on a poster project. When it is time to share their work, hands dart up. Everyone wants to go first. Down the hall, older students are wearing headphones as they independently study a literacy program, a teacher circulating to offer assistance as they need it. After lunch, all the children will don swimsuits to play in the indoor pool.

This is a typical summer day at Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club in Seaford, one of two sites where about 100 children of migrant workers in the state are accessing academic help and enrichment activities this summer thanks to the Delaware Migrant Education Program. 

“Migrant children suffer from interrupted education. This program helps offset that,” Program Director Terry Richard said. “The constant mobility makes it hard for them to ever get their feet on the ground academically. Migrant students check out of school early in the spring and register late in the fall to follow crop production cycles with their parents. Migrant summer school helps them to get on track again.” 

The children — who qualify for the free program if they are between 3 and 21 years of age, have moved within the past three years, and have parents employed in agricultural work —- study using the i-Ready for Common Core and Migrant Literacy CORE during their daily morning academic time.

Teacher Jhoana Pazmino, who has been working with the program for five years, notes the academic and social progress in the students from the start of the program through the end of the summer.

“You can see the change in their vocabulary,” she said. “They get more social — they learn to play along with the other kids.”

Richard said the summer program better prepares the students for the Delaware public schools they will enter in the fall.

“They have had reading instruction, reading tutorials” over the summer, she said. “We do an initial literacy test to determine each migrant student’s levels, then a mid-point and a final test so we are able to establish interim growth rates in reading. Plus, the enrichment is incredible — they get experiences they wouldn’t get otherwise.”

That includes field trips to places such as the Salisbury Zoo and Lewes beach and special events at the club, such as the recent Nature Day with presentations from partners such as Abbott’s Mill, Trap Pond and Star Lab. In August, the older children will participate in what has become an annual culinary arts contest. Delaware chefs volunteer, working with the students in an Iron Chef-like friendly competition as they turn the same fruits and vegetables the migrant families are harvesting in Delaware fields into tasty dishes.

“Slices of grilled Delaware watermelon are always on the menu, along with fresh corn dishes and desserts from ripe peaches. It’s a very creative and sensory-rich event with the students quite literally bringing the freshest of produce straight from the fields into the kitchen. They learn cooking terms, liquid and dry measurement, temperatures, food safety, and teamwork,” Richard said.

“It helps the kids to see the next step after harvest, what is the end result,” she said. “It is an introduction to another career opportunity. The chefs do a presentation at the close of the day about culinary arts and how they became chefs.”

Parents also are invited for family nights that bring in programming from health and social service organizations. The Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Council, one of the Delaware Department of Education’s migrant program partners, includes member agencies that provide a slate of family healthcare services, breast cancer prevention and treatment, children’s dentistry, and fair housing information.

Juan, a rising seventh grader who says he has been attending for three years, likes all the excursions and fun camp activities, but his favorite part of the program is i-Ready.

“It shows me more stuff that I don’t know and haven’t learned yet,” he said.

Ashley, who will enter the fourth grade this fall, is attending the program for the second year. She says the summer program helps her when she goes back to school.

“I do math and reading better,” she said.

Funding for the program comes from federal Title I, Part C grants, with each site operating its six-week program on $70,000. In addition to the staffing and programming, the funding covers bus transportation for the students, supplies (each student is given a bathing suit and towel, for example) and meals (children receive morning and afternoon snacks as well as lunch daily). Backpacks and school supplies are given to each child to ensure that they are ready for the fall semester. Stretching the small budget means a lot of work for the staffers and a lot of partnerships from the community.

Lucy Dutton, assistant director at the Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club, has overseen the program for five years. She said her own challenging childhood motivates her work.

“These kids have a right and a value,” she said. “Every child deserves that chance to prosper and see it is possible to thrive.”
 Find more photos online here.


Alison May
(302) 735-4000