CAMD Scholar Mary Krome ’09 Presents Research on Migrant Children in Florida and the Educational Issues They Face

Although Mary Krome ’09 grew up in close proximity to migrant workers, she never looked in depth at their lives – or their children’s education – until this past summer. Krome, one of the six Community And Multicultural Development (CAMD) Scholars this past summer, spent three weeks in Florida volunteering at a school and learning about the migrant education program. “I’m just a 16 year old,” she said. “I didn’t have a teaching degree or even a high school degree. How can I possibly provide for these students? I’m sitting there thinking, how can I take these three weeks to significantly improve these children’s education and their life?” Krome presented her research and her experiences on migrant education last Friday and invited guest speaker Lourdes Villanueva, a former migrant worker and now a migrant Head Start manager, to speak as well. Throughout her childhood in Archer, Florida, Krome saw migrant workers harvesting in the fields. Her childhood memories along with her love of the Spanish language inspired her to choose this topic. Krome also observed the numerous challenges faced by migrant workers and their families while conducting her research. According to Krome, the language barrier is the biggest challenge facing migrant families, who almost exclusively speak Spanish. Schools usually only contact the parents in English. “Teachers think the parents don’t care [about their child’s education] when they miss meetings and conferences, but [the parents] just don’t know [what is going on],” said Krome. Krome taught nine kids at a small public school. Though Krome found the kids to be “absolutely darling,” she still found the task daunting. The kids were all at different levels of education, as some knew how to read and others did not. Each student also had specific emotional needs. Krome admitted that she did not know much about migrant education before the summer, and much of her audience Friday night also knew little about migrants. A migrant worker is one who does not return to his or her home after a work season. For example, a migrant worker could spend six weeks in Florida picking blueberries, then move to Texas to pick another crop for eight weeks, and so on. Families with this type of lifestyle qualify for the migrant education program. A migrant student is a child whose parent or guardian is a migrant worker. According to Krome, migrant workers in the agriculture industry lead difficult lives. They are paid by the bushel, and their income depends on the weather. If it is raining, they cannot pick the crops. Their work hours can also vary. These busy work days mean that parents sometimes have to miss appointments with the teacher, and students are left in school or day care for far too long because their parents cannot pick them up. In addition, after a long day of fieldwork, parents are often too tired to help their kids with homework. Transferring schools every four to eight weeks is difficult for the students. They must work with new teachers, make new friends and adapt to new textbooks, curricula and surroundings. Throughout the transfer process, records sent from previous schools are sometimes lost, further complicating the common transitions. Lourdes Villanueva, the guest speaker, was born in Mexico. When she was young, a hurricane destroyed her home, so she and her family became migratory. Villanueva said, “I have been in all the stories and situations Mary has talked about.” The migrant education program provided schooling for Villanueva. However, the language barrier as well as the disruption of education was extremely difficult for her. After marrying and having kids of her own, Villanueva finally decided to stay in one place. Villanueva is currently involved with the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) in Florida. RMCA works to provide services, especially child development ones, for migrant families. “We are sensitive to their needs and available when they need us,” Villanueva said. In her position with the RMCA, Villanueva strives to provide the same opportunities to migrant families as she was given when she was migratory. She has been helping migrant families for over 20 years and she plans on doing this kind of work for the rest of her life.