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Published: Sunday, 7/19/2009

Rolling school reaches out to Toledo area's migrants

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ken Green works on language fundamentals with Gustavo Ramirez, 3, at a migrant camp in Woodville, Ohio. The boy is part of the Woodmore district's summer education program for migrants. Ken Green works on language fundamentals with Gustavo Ramirez, 3, at a migrant camp in Woodville, Ohio. The boy is part of the Woodmore district's summer education program for migrants.
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Inside Ken Green's van is everything the Woodville Township man needs to bring his classroom to migrant camps in the evenings and weekends: alphabet magnets, books, flashcards, markers, crayons, handouts, paper, tables, chairs, and more.

Among Mr. Green's migrant students are preschoolers who may spend the day in the Texas Migrant Council day care or with relatives, either at the camp or in a farm field.

Older children working full days picking crops in the fields come to Mr. Green for help with schoolwork or learning English as a second language.

Students enrolled in Woodmore Local School District's day-time migrant education program also may flock to Mr. Green, who teaches sixth-grade science during the regular school year.

Margarita Lopez of Plant City, Fla., a native of Mexico, said migrant families appreciate Mr. Green and other local teachers who instruct their children.

"It's important because it's their education," the Spanish-speaking woman said through her 12-year-old son, Rigoberto Ramirez, who interpreted for her last week.

Federally funded summer migrant education programs long have been offered throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, rooted in President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great So-

ciety" social reform programs in the late 1960s.

Bettsville, Blissfield, Fremont, Gibsonburg, Lakota, Miller City-New Cleveland, Pike-Delta-York, Willard, and Woodmore are among school districts with migrant education programs this year.

The programs help fill in the gaps for migrant children, who may be absent from their home schools in late spring and even early fall, said Tom Adams, director of Woodmore's migrant program.

"They miss a lot of school when they're traveling from Texas or Florida to get here," he said.

"Most of it is getting them caught up."

This year, more northwest Ohio school districts with migrant education are offering a program called Access, in which teachers such as Woodmore's Mr. Green go directly to camps to help students.

Jose Salinas, director of the Ohio Migrant Education Center in Fremont, which assists school districts, said the Access pilot program began a few years ago, and most area migrant education programs now offer it.

Some children may have younger siblings they must watch during the day, or parents may want their children to go to Texas Migrant Council day care instead because it has longer hours, Mr. Salinas said.

At 12, migrant children are permitted to work full days in the fields, so they no longer go to summer migrant school, he said.

"If the children can't come to us, we can come to them," Mr. Salinas said.

Part of the goal is to stress the importance of education, he said.

"The hardest thing for us is trying to serve the population from 12 years old on up," Mr. Salinas said.

"Once they turn 12 and we don't see them anymore, it's hard to keep that momentum."

Rigoberto, for example, started helping pick cucumbers instead of going to Woodmore's day program for migrant children in prekindergarten through sixth grade.

The 12-year-old hopes to go to college, perhaps to become a math teacher, but he wants to earn money in the fields this summer, he said.

There weren't enough students this year to offer an Access program to migrant children in Fulton, Henry, Williams, and Defiance counties, as well as parts of Lucas and Wood counties.

But the program housed in the Miller City-New Cleveland Local School District would offer Access again if there is demand, said Shirley Tulk, director of the Region VI migrant education program.

Woodmore's Mr. Green, who typically visits camps with a bilingual aide, said this stint with the migrant education program is his first.

He works with a dozen students regularly and offers help to others.

"I enjoy working with kids," said Mr. Green, who also is a farmer and a township trustee.

"It's been a very interesting and educational experience for me."

Finding staff willing to teach at migrant camps, however, can be difficult, said Laura Bryant, director of the Fremont City School District migrant program.

This is the third summer in which Fremont has offered the Access program, and it has three teachers and an aide who visit 45 youths at seven camps, Ms. Bryant said.

Sometimes parents and younger siblings take part too, she said.

"They want to learn, and they appreciate something to do," Ms. Bryant said.

For the first time, personnel in Fremont are taking older students to Ohio State University for a campus visit, Ms. Bryant said.

OSU also is sending a recruiter to the area to talk about applying for college, she said.

"We do have some very supportive parents who want to send their kids to college," Ms. Bryant said. "They just don't know how to go about doing it."

At Woodmore, the district has an evening school for grades 7 through 12 and classes for young migrant workers in English as a second language.

That is in addition to the Access program and the day school for preschool through elementary students, which experienced an increase in enrollment this summer to 126 students from 81 last year, said Mr. Adams, the director.

Students in the six-week day program are taken on field trips to places such as the Toledo Zoo, have weekly swimming lessons at Woodville Pool, and participate in other activities.

It's good for them to have some summertime fun too, Mr. Adams said.

"These kids know that in just a few years, they're going to be working," Mr. Adams said.

Lucia Hernandez, 9, of Pharr, Texas, and some of her classmates said they have learned how to tell time and are studying various subjects in migrant school.

"Most of it is reading," said Lucia, who will be in third grade this fall.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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