high-school dropout rates
Many thousands of Spanish-speaking children whose parents are in North Carolina as migrant laborers know that a border can be more than a barbed-wire strand separating two stretches of southwestern desert.
Although not all immigrants to the U.S. are Latinos, many immigrant workers’ kids face borders daily, starting with a language barrier that blocks them from effective social services and meaningful educations, say 4-H personnel who work with immigrants.
“ We all know that immigration – and not just Latino immigration — is a political and economic issue,” says Cintia Aguilar, state recruitment coordinator for the federal Migrant Education Program (MEP).
Aguilar, N.C. Cooperative Extension 4-H youth development program assistant, identifies migrant workers’ children and others who, under the federal Title I (C) Elementary and Secondary Education Act, qualify for tutoring, summer programs, after-school clubs, services of a family-school liaison migrant specialist and other services. Extension partners with the state Department of Public Instruction to administer the College’s MEP grant.
“ Some people like it that the immigrants are here, some don’t, but they’re here,” Aguilar says. “And what are we going to do about it?
“ What we want are educated people. Our mission, our ultimate goal, is to help children of migrants finish high school,” says Aguilar, who holds a 1993 master’s degree in psychology from the University of Costa Rica.
To successfully identify at-risk migrant kids, Aguilar and MEP staffs statewide network with growers, community agencies and others to locate eligible youth, who must be younger than 22, and can be migrant workers or children of migrant workers who have moved within the past three years.
“ Migrant students start dropping out when they start high school,” Aguilar says. “And if they graduate and aren’t documented, they can’t apply for college scholarships. They ask me, ‘What’s the point of finishing high school if all I’m going to do is work in the fields?’”
This is a head-count game, she says. And the count to date, with 49 North Carolina counties participating, is 17,468 students for the 2001 - 2002 school year, up from 15,909 students in 2000-2001.
The five counties with the highest numbers were Rockingham, 1,118; Henderson, 1,041; Chatham, 901; Nash, 890; and Johnston, 789.
Each school district’s migrant education program differs, but they’re all voluntary and all based on how many students MEP can identify as eligible for services, which is not without its problems.
“ Sometimes the workers are afraid to talk with us,” says Aguilar. “They think we’re la migra [Departmento de Imigración, or the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service].”
Aguilar coordinates with Dr. Rachel Crawford, the state Department of Public Instruction’s migrant education consultant, who directs the state MEP and leads the state’s AIM (action, inspiration, motivation) dropout prevention program.
Crawford cites the successful Randolph County MEP program, which includes 150 AIM club members in seven middle and high schools. Twenty Randolph County students who are children of migrants or former migrants graduated from high school this year.
“ With our state AIM clubs coordinator, Roxanne Taylor, the students participate in spirit days, parades and other school activities,” Crawford says. “They do community clean-ups, such as along the Deep River, they visit retirement homes and jails, they plant vegetables and flowers. They collaborate with 4-H club advisors to do projects.”
Migrant Student AIM clubs are natural sponsors for
Once the AIM 4-H clubs are formed,” he says, “the potential
for cross-age and same-age peer/Teens Reaching Youth program delivery
is enormous, as are potential and logical 4-H school enrichment applications.”