June 23, 2007

Migrant education changes drastically

Linda Vanderwerf, West Central Tribune

Migrant education programs in west central Minnesota have changed dramatically, thanks to a 30 percent drop in federal funding.

Full-day summer migrant schools still exist in the BOLD, Montevideo and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa school districts, but those in Willmar and Renville County West have shut down.

Migrant programs, which have been in existence for many years, help children of migrant agricultural workers stay on track in school. In many cases, families leave their winter homes before school is out in the spring and return after school has started in the fall.

When federal funding fell from $2.3 million to $1.6 million, state officials had to decide how to distribute the money they had left, said Jessie Montano, director of consolidated federal programs for the Minnesota Department of Education.

All programs were re-evaluated, and the ones with the highest percentage of first-year migrants received funding. About half the state’s summer programs lost funding.

“That was not an easy decision for us,” said Montano.

Montano has worked with migrant education programs since the mid-1970s, and some of the programs that lost funding had been in existence longer than that.

“We’ve been talking about looking at changes for a long time, and this was a start,” she said.

In districts like Willmar, RCW and Moorhead, “we have more and more kids staying here in the school year,” Montano said. After a couple years, the students are no longer considered migrants.

By contrast, BBE’s students are “nearly 100 percent” first-year migrants, said program coordinator Josie Dingmann. The program serves roughly 80 students a year.

Montevideo, too, has a lot of first-year students. The district saw a small increase from last year and has $109,377 to spend on its summer program this year. Program coordinator Al Jonsrud said he expects to see a few students coming from nearby districts that have lost programs.

Some families spend the whole summer in west central Minnesota, said Jonsrud. They may come in the spring to pick up rocks in the fields, then stay to work in sugar beet and soybean fields.

“Some look for work and stay on,” he said. “I think that’s what’s happening now at some of the sites.”


Doing what they can

A few districts, like Willmar and Moorhead, are receiving some state help to serve migrant students in their regular summer school programs.

“I was delighted when Willmar and Moorhead agreed to include these kids into the regular summer program,” Montano said. Those larger districts have more extensive summer school offerings than most rural districts.

Willmar officials aren’t quite as pleased with the arrangement.

“Willmar’s been known as a migrant community, and it’s shocking that it’s trending away from that,” said Scott Hisken, the administrator who coordinated the Willmar migrant school.

The district received $137,770 last year for its summer program. This year, a $20,000 grant allows the district to include some children in summer school programs where it’s appropriate.

However, the summer school is a half-day program. Children receive academic help there, but the migrant program could offer much more, Hisken said. Migrant schools provide academic instruction, two meals each day and enrichment opportunities like music and art classes.

“We certainly were disappointed when we found out about the change,” Hisken said.


All gone

RCW lost all funding for migrant programs, including $99,550 for its summer migrant school, said Dale Negen, an administrator who was in charge of the programs.

Other districts in the state have also lost funding for school-year programs.

“That will be a big change for us,” Negen said. The district used that funding to provide some extra assistance for migrant students who stayed during the school year.

The loss is likely to have a “ripple effect,” Negen said.

With fewer paraprofessionals available, classroom teachers will need to address more individual needs, and all students will probably receive a bit less attention than they did in the past, he said.


On their own?

Students who can’t get to another summer program “are out on their own now,” Negen said.

Some of the districts that still have summer programs have accepted children from the districts that lost their funding, Montano said.

“We encouraged them to reach out,” she said, and they have done that.

Jane Sanchez, coordinator of the program in BOLD, said her program received additional funding to bring students from nearby districts. The program’s funding increased from $124,609 in 2006 to $179,144 in 2007.

BOLD buses migrant children from as far away as Sacred Heart, Willmar and Stewart.

Districts that still have programs have been able to continue their evening programming, too. The evening programs serve secondary students who are working in the fields with their parents during the day.

Sanchez said she is impressed with the secondary students who work all day, then take the time to get cleaned up and come to school. Some are taking Advanced Placement courses at their home schools, and the migrant program helps them avoid falling behind.

“The high school kids are some of the finest kids I’ve ever seen,” she said.