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Summer School Helps Bridge the Gap For the Children of Migrant Workers in Ohio

photo of Carolina Velasco Bautista

Ohio’s warm, humid summer days are giving way to cooler shorter ones. Families of agricultural workers are preparing to move to other states as the most labor intensive parts of the local growing season come to an end.

StateImpact Ohio’s Michelle Faust reports on how a recently completed local summer school program aims to bridge educational gaps for the children in these families.

In the small Northwest Ohio township of Old Fort, a class of nine middle and high school students fidget while science teacher Jim Less presents a unit about DNA. Fourteen-year-old Carolina Velasco Bautista is excited. As she strings together a DNA strand out of red vines, gummy bears, and toothpicks, she explains, "Honestly, I want to be a CSI, a forensic crime scene investigator. I mean I watch all those shows [like] ‘Criminal Minds,’ you know, all those ‘NCIS,’ all that.”

Velasco Bautista’s teachers say she’s one of the top students: dedicated and hard-working. It’s a good thing. Velasco Bautista has been to a lot of different schools.

“We’ve been here, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina and New Jersey.”

Her parents are agricultural laborers and they follow the seasonal work.

A new season
When cucumber season ends, most of the kids in this summer migrant program will move back to Texas or Florida after a few weeks in the local public schools. Velasco Bautista doesn’t complain to me about the lifestyle that has her moving from school to school. But it does create educational challenges.

“They fall behind a lot,” says José Salinas, director of the Ohio Migrant Education Center. He oversees nine federally funded summer programs throughout the state—programs that keep students out of the fields and keep them learning.

Many of these children will attend three schools in one year which can disrupt their education. Add to that, many are English Language Learners. And they face logistical challenges.

Salinas was a migrant student who switched between high schools in Ohio and Texas, two states with different course requirements.

“At the end of my junior year, I’m already one semester behind and how am I supposed to make up that semester credit?”

Catching up
This summer, Ohio’s migrant programs worked with more than 650 students in day and night classes — and sometimes in their homes. Ann Cranston-Gingras is the director of the Center for Migrant Education at the University of South Florida. She says the challenges are common.

“If you're getting your education piecemeal in different places, but then you're being held to an assessment that's based on one particular state, you’re going to have difficulty.”

Cranston-Gingras says summer migrant programs keep kids from falling further behind. They’re an important partial solution for the more than 300,000 migrant children in the country. Elsa Briseño—migrant worker and mother—believes the programs are helping her 8-year-old son, Ray. She’s proud of his academic progress and hopes his future reflects that of his older sister.

“Bringing them here does help them. I say it because of my daughter. Years ago we brought her and she’d tell me this work is not for me. And now she’s 35-years-old and she worked hard on her studies and now she’s a college counselor.”

Class is in session
Back in science class, Velasco Bautista explains what her parents want for her.

“They don’t want me working out like them. They really want me to be successful life. I can make it if I try really hard for it.”

Although she faces challenges, the summer program aims to give her a boost to help her reach her goals.