"Teachers Should Be like Us!": Bridging Migrant Communities to Rural Michigan Classrooms

By Torrez, J. Estrella | Multicultural Education, Spring/Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

"Teachers Should Be like Us!": Bridging Migrant Communities to Rural Michigan Classrooms


Torrez, J. Estrella, Multicultural Education


Introduction

The 2013 State of Michigan Inter-agency Migrant Services Committee's enumeration report estimates Michigan migrant and seasonal agricultural laborers and accompanying non-farmworkers to be a population of 94,000 (Larson, 2013). This number includes approximately 42,000 individuals under 20 years of age, with nearly 65% under age 13. Despite this large influx of laborers concentrated in one area, migrant and seasonal farmworkers are often referred to as invisible people.

A brief sketch, as provided by the 2010 Michigan Migrant Head Start Community Assessment, describes Michigan migrant students in the following terms: (1) approximately 17.5% are high school graduates; (2) 92.46% live in homes where Spanish is the preferred language; and (3) 93.3% live below the poverty line.

These circumstances create a complicated situation for those students entering rural schools, schools which are not fully equipped to provide sufficient academic support services for migratory families. Such challenges severely inhibit academic success and meaningful community engagement; a positive school experience is stifled when separation between home and school exists (Epstein 1995; Dorries 2002; Olivos, 2009).

Using a component of a larger study, this article considers the growing concern to adequately educate the nation's migrant farmworker children by focusing on the Cherryville Summer Migrant Education Program (SMEP) situated in the rural Midwest. The original project investigated accessible solutions connecting migrant and seasonal farmworker (MSFW) communities with rural Midwest summer migrant education program classrooms.

Specifically, the project focused on the ways in which the education program supported bilingual/bicultural development. The findings reveal that the struggles encountered by educators and MSFW families were a product of miscommunication, inadequate curriculum support, and a lack of confidence engaging with one another. Furthermore, the study of the Cherryville SMEP found families sensed that school-situated MSFW home pedagogies were inferior when compared to needed academic knowledge.

Even if teachers expressed a desire to include migrant children's funds of knowledge (González, Moll & Amanti, 2005; Vélez-Ibáñez & Greenberg, 1992) into the classroom, they were given culturally and linguistically desensitized curriculum and materials to implement in their classrooms. As a result, the summer migrant education program inadvertently assisted in student and family marginalization.

The Cherryville SMEP was established in 1963, and is hailed as one of the first SMEPs in the Midwest. In 1972, the program was at its peak by managing 11 sites serving over 5,000 students. Until the 1990s, Cherryville SMEP also provided adult ESL courses. A number of factors have attributed to the reduction of the sites from 11 to two. The surviving two sites currently serve 300 students.

In years past, the Cherryville SMEP offered support services year round, however it now offers a bulk of the services from late June through early August. In spite of its limitations, the program is still respected within the surrounding migrant community, and continues to be a trusted space for MSFW families to send their children while working.

Prior to applying for employment with the Cherryville SMEP most teachers were unaware of the local MSFW community. Once they began working with MSFW students, many teachers were unable to relate to their students, and did not have a firm handle on providing effective bilingual services. Inevitably, this resulted in a program ill-equipped to integrate the migrant life into the school. Despite well-intentioned attempts made to include the migrant experience into the curriculum, such activities were restricted by language barriers and aligned with a tacos and Cinco de Mayo form of multiculturalism (Enid, 1998).

These conditions prevented MSFW families from participating in their children's classrooms, and consequently families became unintentionally passive in their child's academic decision- making process. …

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