My name is Karen Vocke, an English Education professor at Western Michigan University. My work has long focused on migrant farm worker education at multiple levels—families, educators, and programming.
Migrant workers are often referred to as the “invisible people” because of their status as one of America’s most marginalized, vulnerable, and undereducated populations. These families’ livelihoods derive from harvesting a variety of crops; they often move frequently in order to remain employed. Migrant farm workers are a resource vital to the nation’s agricultural industry and are part of many rural communities, yet the educational progress of the children greatly lags behind mainstream standards. Services and opportunities for these students and their families are often fragmented, both from an educational standpoint and auxiliary community support perspective. These children, many of whom speak little or no English, may attend as many as three schools in one academic year as families travel from worksite to worksite. Still other families “settle out,” remaining in a community and working in agriculture-related jobs when they can. Literacy education and language support opportunities are limited for families. Educational and service programs vary dramatically in resources and services.
Evaluators and researchers need to consider the issues of transiency and culture when working with this population. Gaining access, whether it be to examine a program or the population itself, is a time-consuming process. Trust is paramount. My own research has been based on access to migrant families attained by spending weeks in the company of community insiders, visiting camps and educational programs. Access, based on trust and mutual respect, elicits the most authentic responses to evaluation and research query.
Most importantly, access to migrant populations must be facilitated by one of that community, a “gatekeeper” of sorts. For example, my own visits to migrant camps were always in the company of the school district “recruiter,” a liaison between the school and camps. Access and participation can only be authentic when a collaborative and culturally sensitive foundation has been built.
Learn as much about the unique migrant culture before attempting any evaluation or research endeavor. Several exemplary programs and informational websites include the following:
- The Geneseo Migrant Center
- The National Center for Farmworker Health
- The U.S. Department of Education Office of Migrant Education
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