Migrant scholarship fund established

Published 8:44 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For the first time, migrant students of Bainbridge High School will be able to apply for a special scholarship to help them continue their education in a college or technical school.

Thanks to the work of the Decatur County Schools Migrant Education Department, a scholarship fund is being established under the auspices of the Harvest of Hope Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit corporation. Donations are being sought to assist migrant or former migrant students of BHS further their education.

April Aldridge, assistant principal at John Johnson Elementary School, said, “Now going to college is an option for migrant students, many of whom have never dreamed of being able to do so.”

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Many of the migrant students here are the first in their families to even graduate from high school, let alone think about attending college, she explained.

For years John Johnson Elementary has been the hub for migrant education in Decatur County.

Aldridge said it is because most of the migrant camps fall in that school district. The majority of the students are Hispanic. There are also Haitians, but Aldridge said the face of the migrant worker is changing along with that of agriculture.

Technically speaking, Aldridge said migrant workers are identified as any family that moves across county or state lines to do agricultural work—taking crops out of the ground.

Decatur County has a huge population of migrant workers that move in and out, following the crops. The federal government assists with educational needs for those students.

Bobby Trawick is director of Migrant Education and English as a Second Language for Decatur County Department of Education.

Aldridge said the children of migrant workers are typically in school from September to November and then return in April for the summer, with migrant summer school being very large.

Aldridge said over the past four years their programs have grown to include other elementary schools, with services of after school programs and tutoring available pre-kindergarten through high school.

They have also developed a team that partners with other agencies and organizations in the community to provide multiple social services, such as providing clothing and health awareness.

“We advocate for the families,” explained Aldridge, who added, “They are here and we serve them.”

Wendy Smith is coordinator of a home school liaison team, consisting of Erika Mills, Jennifer Brock, Esther Gomez, Maria Granados and Virginia Willis. The team works with middle and high school migrant students and their families. There are four to five meetings a year with parents to help them understand how to have parent conferences, and how to help their children with extra curricular activities.

This year there is even a meeting with the parents to explain the importance of the census and how to complete it.

Smith said she wants to see every migrant student graduate from high school, and if possible go on to college.

Toward that end, a series of lunch and learn meetings have been organized. Topics cover career planning and what it takes to go on to college. Representatives from colleges come to speak to the parents and students in Spanish. They make the students and families aware that it is possible for them to continue their education.

Smith said currently she has 16 migrant students ranging from middle to high school. There are also students of school age who are not enrolled because they are working in the fields.

A program has also been established to help parents and those unable to enroll in school obtain a high school equivalency. Twelve students will graduate in May with their GED.

Attempts to make contacts with the families are made through a team of recruiters who go to the camps and likely gathering places of the workers, to make them aware of the services available to them.

Aldridge said migrant families are eligible for services for up to three years, but many families have become so satisfied with what they have found here that they decide to stay and make this a permanent home.

Aldridge said she believes the first scholarship will be granted this year.

“It may only be $500, but I believe we will be able to make one award this year,” she said.

The Bainbridge Georgia Migrant Scholarship committee is in charge of the distribution of funds and is composed of educators and administrators of the Decatur County School system. The scholarship money will be sent to the college where the recipient is enrolled.

Persons interested in making a donation to the scholarship fund, or learning more about the program, are invited to contact Aldridge by calling 248-2215, or at aaldridge@dcboe.com.

Checks or money orders payable to Harvest of Hope, and earmarked “Bainbridge Georgia Migrant Scholarship Fund,” should be mailed to Harvest of Hope Foundation, P.O. Box 358025, Gainesville, FL 32635.