Migrant students spend days focusing on school subjects

Published 4:24 pm Friday, June 8, 2018

School is out for the summer in Decatur County, but you would never believe it if you were to step into the Performance Learning Center, 507 Martin Street, where teachers are undergoing continued training and the classrooms are filled with students enrolled in the Migrant Summer School Program.

Decatur County Schools offer a three-week summer program for migrant students from age three years to 8th grade. This year it runs from June 4 to June 26.

Kathy Varner, director of the program, explained that in order to be eligible, the students must be from a family that follows the agricultural crops, moving with the seasons. Mostly, they are summer students, although Varner says they are seeing a few during the school year. The busiest time in Decatur County is from the end of May to July 4, the harvest time for corn and tomatoes.

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The program has been in existence for several years and Varner reports they are seeing a trend of more students being in the school year and fewer in the summer. Three years ago they had approximately 300 students in the summer program. This year they are averaging 50 to 60 per day. She attributes it to fewer workers coming or fewer bringing their families. Many growers are now using H2A workers, those with a legal work permit that are contracted through placement companies. They tend to be older men who do not bring their families.

Most of the families coming here come from Florida and there are some who have participated for years.

This is not just a babysitting service. The biggest focus is placed on reading and vocabulary comprehension, but there are also classes in math and science, even some in technology. One class of first and second graders was learning how to make solar ovens. Another class of older students were reading a novel aloud.

The staff includes teachers and para-pros from the school system, as well as some BHS students who are bilingual. Some of those were migrant students from prior years and have a good understanding of what it is like and the challenges the students face.

The students receive physical education and are fed breakfast, lunch and provided a snack during the day. They are brought in by bus, through coordination with the school transportation department.

On June 13 there will be a Health Fare in partnership with the Georgia Farm Workers and Emory University Medical School. They bring doctors, nurses and medical students to provide basic medical screenings. This includes dental and vision checkups. 

Varner shared a happy story from two years ago when a three-year-old girl was discovered with a serious and previously undetected cardiac condition. The father spoke no English, but the family was provided aid in securing a referral and appointments with a pediatric cardiologist in Tallahassee.  The child was given the necessary medical attention and the father was overcome with gratitude.

When the students leave the Decatur County Migrant School they usually travel on to other parts of Georgia and indeed, the entire United States. They are sent on their way with the gift of a backpack containing hygiene and school supplies, workbooks and donated books that come from the Read, Dream,Achieve campaign for literacy.

In addition to the Migrant day school, there is an additional program for out of school youth up to age 22, who have not completed a high school education. The Migrant Education recruiter visits the homes or camps in the evenings after the days work in the field is over. Those that are signed up are provided with at-home programs of basic English vocabulary for job skills and social conversation, health information and lessons and any necessary social services.

The Migrant Education Programs are federally funded programs designed to support comprehensive education programs for migrant children to help reduce the education disruption and other problems that result from repeated moves.