Staying in Touch With Migrant Communities

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 15, 2007 1 min read
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I’ve been struck by the close relationships that recruiters for the federal migrant education program form with immigrant families. For one thing, they’re more likely to find themselves visiting homes of families than many educators are.

“I get invited to birthday parties, baptisms, and quinceañeras,” Dorca L. Oyola, a native of Puerto Rico who recruits families for the federal migrant education program in Chester County, Pa., told me this summer while I was reporting on the program for Education Week. “I go and I recruit right there.”

Recruiting families means making sure they know that supplemental educational services are available to migrant children and determining if the children are eligible.

Ms. Oyola speaks Spanish and English, and many migrant families in Chester County—most of whom are Mexican—don’t speak English. Many schools in the area don’t have bilingual secretaries, so parents will often call her to pass a message on to the school, such as that their child is sick and can’t attend school, she says. She helps parents to navigate the school system, such as letting them know that “they can’t be going to Mexico all the time—they have to go during school vacations.” If students miss more than 10 days of school, she said, parents can be fined.

Ms. Oyola, who is 50, moved to the United States when she was 23. She worked in a meat packing plant for eight years, furthered her education, and eventually earned an associate’s degree in business administration. She said she shares her own experiences with migrant students, hoping they will be motivated to get an education. “Whenever I register high school kids, I tell them I didn’t come with a briefcase in my hand. I won it. I made myself professional so I can help others.”

Sometimes, she said, that means helping families in very practical ways, such as driving them to a food pantry when she finds they don’t have anything in the house to eat. She added: “You go to bed at night and say, ‘I did something good today for somebody.’ ”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.