Raquel Gerardo has moved more times in her short 18 years of life than most people do in an entire lifetime.
Since coming to the U.S. from Mexico at four years of age, until entering her freshman year at St. John’s High School, Gerardo and her family moved multiple times between Michigan, Indiana and Tennessee, working as migrant workers on various farms.
Gerardo was often pulled out of school so the family could move to follow their work. Sometimes their stay in a specific city was so short that there wasn’t time for her to enroll, so she didn’t attend school at all.
The constant moving had serious consequences on her socially and academically, but the Mid-Michigan Migrant Education Program, a federally-funded program designed for migrant children and English language learners who have settled in a specific area, helped Gerardo gain confidence and catch up in her studies.
“In sixth grade I didn’t want to make friends anymore because I knew we were going to move and I didn’t really talk to anyone,” Gerardo said. “And after that it took me two years to go back and make friends again because I knew we would be moving back and forth, never staying in the same spot because of our jobs.”
“Every time I heard we had to move back to Michigan, I had just started to make friends,” she added.
Gerardo’s family settled in the St. Johns school district during the summer of 2008, before her freshman year of high school. It was at this time that Gerardo became involved in the Mid-Michigan Migrant Education Program.
“I was very quiet and didn’t really talk to anyone until I got to high school,” she said. “They told me that we wouldn’t be moving anymore so I thought, why not make friends now that I can actually do it?”
But making friends wasn’t the only problem Gerardo faced once she was finally able to get involved at St. John’s High School. Being pulled in and out of schools for most of her life caused Gerardo to struggle academically as well.
“I didn’t comprehend the material that they gave me at school,” Gerardo explained. “I was really lost so they [Mid-Michigan Migrant Education Program] gave me a private tutor for two years and it helped me a lot.”
Thanks to the Mid-Michigan Migrant Education Program, Gerardo and other migrant students are not only able to receive help during the regular school year from a private tutor, but also during summer school.
Robert Ranney, the regional director for the Mid-Michigan Migrant Education Program, explained that keeping up with their education when attending more than one school district every year is very difficult for migrant children.
“We send people out to 18 different school districts in four counties,” Ranney explained. “And in the summer there are two different locations for the children to attend summer school.”
Ranney added that the transition between summer school and the regular school year is vital for children to succeed. Instructors at the education program document and track the progress made by each student and have a written report at the end of the summer to give to their teachers for the upcoming school year.
“The reports give evidence of the what the child has worked on over the summer,” Ranney explained. “It also gives the child’s teacher a better idea of where the child is at to specifically meet their needs in the classroom.”
Dianna Root, lead teacher for the program, finds joy in providing a service for such a great need.
“Because our children are migrants they are traveling from school district to school district and there are so many gaps in their education,” Root explained. “When they have this language barrier that they’re trying to overcome there is a huge need of support there.”
Wendy Smith, an eighth grade science teacher at St. Johns Middle School, has taught summer school at the Migrant Education Program for the last two and a half years. She explained that because of small classroom sizes, students are able to receive more one on one attention than they do in the regular school year.
“We’re able to take them where they’re at and bring them up,” Smith said. “They get the extra instruction that can help them be confident in school.”
Like Root, Smith recognizes the dire need there is for this program and explained that even if a child sounds fluent in English, some of the things Americans think of as common sense they don’t understand.
“As a teacher you use examples to teach,” Smith explained. “And often times they don’t even know what the example is, so how are they supposed to solve the actual problem?”
“Language development is such a big thing,” she continued. “Some kids go to school for a couple of months, but they missed the first part of the school year because they were in Mexico. It’s the inconsistencies of one school to the next that cause a barrier.”
Smith said it’s the children that keep her coming back summer after summer.
“The kids sucked me in,” she said. “They don’t want it to end. They get so excited about their learning that they just fly.”
“It’s just a pure pleasure,” Root agreed. “It’s such a pleasure to work with the children of this population.”
By Jaclyn McNeal