Monday, December 20, 2010

The People of Watsonville 2 - Migrant Head Start By David Bacon Watsonville, CA 9/29/10

Children of migrant farm workers, many of them from indigenous Mixtec families from Oaxaca, begin learning basic reading, writing and social skills in a day care nursery school program run by Migrant Head Start, part of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. Children who go through Head Start programs learn much more quickly, and have an easier time making social adjustments, once they begin regular school.

The Migrant Head Start program has been going on for two decades. It tries to provide both childcare and a learning environment for the children of people who work in the fields, including families who travel with the crops. Other families work several months in the U.S., and return to Mexico during the off-season.

Many of the teachers who run the centers were field workers themselves earlier in their lives, and know the difficulties migrant families face introducing children to schools and education. Some teachers speak the same language the children speak, not just Spanish, but Mixteco. They help children to begin learning English as well.

Learning in a home environment has important advantages, according to Teresa Gallegos, whose center is in a Watsonville working-class neighborhood. "Parents who live in this neighborhood can drop their kids off before they have to be at work," she says. Field labor jobs start at 6 or 7 AM, while it's still dark, long before schools open. "Plus we share the same culture and know what's happening in their lives." Karen Osmondsen, a member of the Pajaro Valley school board, goes to every one of the monthly meetings organized for Migrant Head Start parents. "I really love this program, and I'm very close to the families here," she says. "This is what we really need to make sure the children from farm worker families can make it into and through our education system. Like the name says, it's a head start."

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