Meeting the Educational Needs of Lenoir’s Migrant Youth

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CED Program Interns & Students

Andrew Guinn is a graduate student in UNC’s Department of City and Regional Planning and a CCP intern working in Caswell and Lenoir Counties.

CCP interns recently attended a best practices meeting for North Carolina educators who provide services for out-of-school youth (OSY) in the state.  The OSY program is itself a part of the broader Migrant Education Program (MEP), whose Lenoir County chapter has been especially active and visionary in its efforts to provide educational services to a frequently overlooked population: local, migrant youth.

Over the last thirty years, counties throughout North Carolina – both rural and urban – have seen a remarkable increase in the size of their Latino immigrant population.  Like other states in the Southeast that have little experience with large-scale Latino immigration, North Carolina has become a recent “New Gateway” for immigrants from Latin American countries.  Policy makers, private institutions, and non-profit community groups throughout the state have introduced a number of responses in order to maximize the economic and cultural benefits of immigration while mitigating the social costs.  The Lenoir County MEP, which serves more than 200 students, is one such local response to the education-related challenges associated with this demographic shift.

The Lenoir County MEP is itself a chapter of the North Carolina MEP, a federally funded program that is regulated by Title I, Part C of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Migrant students include persons who fulfill the following criteria: aged 3-22; have not yet received a high school diploma or equivalent; have moved to a new school district in the last 36 months; whose family or selves have moved to seek temporary employment in agriculture or fishing; and whose family income derives primarily from work in agriculture or fishing.  Statewide, more than 5,000 students are registered with the MEP, and these students tend to be very mobile, relocating as frequently as every few weeks as their families follow the geography of ripening crops across not only North Carolina but also the entire Eastern United States.   While it is important to keep in mind that the MEP is itself not specifically targeted at Latino youth, serving this particular demographic is one of the program’s important functions.

The program exists because children in families that are economically dependent on migrant farm-work are subjected to repeated moves, which disrupt the continuity of their education.  Particularly in the case of out-of-school youth, who tend to be older adolescents that have left school due to the difficulties associated with reconciling public schooling with a migrant way of life, providing educational services is rather difficult.  Nevertheless, when surveyed these students have expressed a strong desire not only to learn English but also to learn skills necessary for socio-economic mobility.

In order to fill this service gap, educators in the Migrant Education Program provide high quality, supplemental support services for these children.  Such education includes not only English language study, but also other subjects with the potential to assist students with future upward mobility.  For example, courses in mathematics might focus on measurement units and conversions for transition into construction.  Exercises focusing on computer literacy provide students with skills that are valued in today’s labor markets.  In addition to innovatively crafting curricula tailored to the unique needs of migrant students, educators in the MEP must be highly creative in their teaching methods.  Students are rarely available for instruction during the week and often for only short periods during the weekend.  In response to these challenges, educators at the conference discussed how to plan and teach short (yet highly relevant) lessons.  Such lessons can be supplemented during the week by individual exercises using new technologies, such as MP3 players and laptops.

The Lenoir County MEP is somewhat unique in comparison to the programs in other school districts in that it serves predominately out-of-school youth.  The group is meeting this challenge through the hard work of its staff and interns, as well as the constant support of state consultants in the North Carolina MEP.   Together, the Lenoir County MEP team has made great strides in not only recruiting numerous out-of-school youth participants to the program, but also providing a high-level of educational services with a distinctive focus on participant-driven projects.

This summer, CCP interns have reached out to assist the Lenoir County MEP in two main areas. First, they will project the impact on the migrant workforce of the soon-to-open Sanderson Farms poultry processing facilities in Lenoir County.  Once these facilities become operational, more than 1,500 jobs are expected to be created, some of which are very likely to be filled by temporary, migrant workers who would qualify for the MEP.  Estimating the impact of the facility on the size of the local migrant workforce will assist the MEP in planning for its own future operations.  Second, the MEP in Lenoir has expressed interest in partnering with UNC researchers who study migration.  These partnerships are being facilitated by the footwork of CCP interns in Chapel Hill.

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