Achieving Success: Perceptions of Students from Migrant Farmwork Families

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In their pursuit of an education, students from migrant farmworker families experience multiple challenges such as high mobility rates and a lack of curriculum alignment and credit transfer across local, state, and national boundaries. Despite these challenges, many of these students graduate from high school and successfully transition into higher educational settings. This study examines the characteristics of a group of diverse students, all from migrant farmworker families, who attend a large metropolitan four-year university and are enrolled in the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). Results were derived from a comprehensive individual survey which addressed multiple domains that were relative to students' high school experiences. Findings reveal a strong sense of determination and self-reliance on the part of the students as well as the strong role families played in their decision to pursue an education. A discussion of the results and recommendations to increase college enrollment of students from migrant farmworker families is provided.

INTRODUCTION

Academic success often eludes students from migrant farmworker families whose livelihood necessitates continuous school change. As they follow the growing seasons across the country, students from migrant families frequently arrive in late fall after school has started and leave before the school year ends. In between, they may attend different schools or no school at all. Issues such as a lack of curriculum alignment between states and difficulties with record transmittal and credit transfer across county, state, and sometimes national boundaries exacerbate the already difficult transition from school to school (National Commission on Migrant Education, 1992). In addition, these students come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds such as Latino and African American (Mehta, Gabbard, Barrat, Lewis, Carroll, & Mines, 2000). Their cultural and linguistic diversity, difficult living situations, and low levels of parental academic attainment further place migrant students out of sync with school systems that are unable or unwilling to accommodate their unique needs. Consequently, high numbers of migrant children do not succeed academically and many fail to complete high school (National Commission on Migrant Education; United States General Accounting Office, 1998).

The number of identified school-age migrant students in the United States is estimated to range from half a million to approximately 800,000 (Gibson, 2003; Lennon & Markatos, 2002). Dropout rates for these students are cited at 45 to 90 percent (United States General Accounting Office 1998). Eventually, the need to work and contribute to family income draws many migrant youth away from an obstacle laden academic path (Martinez & Cranston-Gingras, 1996). Among adult farmworkers in the United States, only approximately 15% have completed 12 years of school or more (Mehta et al. 2000).

Despite these dismal statistics, and in the face of significant challenges, many students from migrant farmworker families persevere toward academic success. Unfortunately, for some of these students, their dreams end with high school graduation because of in-state residency and immigration issues. However, many are gaining admission to colleges and universities. Gibson (2003) and Duron (1995) reported several factors related to migrant student success in secondary school. These include: high-quality academic advising to ensure that students take needed courses, after school tutoring, summer school to make up lost credits, ongoing advocacy and mentoring from family and school personnel, connections to school and community resources, and personal motivation and beliefs about academic abilities. In addition, Reyes and Fletcher (2003) reported that schools that have an organizational culture emphasizing high expectations and continuous improvement for both students and teachers have greater success with students from migrant farmworker families. …