History of Migrant Education
In 1966 Congress responded to the unmet academic needs of the children of the growing farm worker population by authorizing the creation of the Office of Migrant Education. Currently, Migrant Education has programs in all 50 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Nationwide the program serves over 500,000 students, offering supplementary academic help and support services to individuals 3-21 years of age. Albemarle Regional Migrant Education serves an average of 100 preschool through 12th graders and 50 out-of-school youth each year. Since most of these students are Hispanic, the academic hurdles are caused not only by frequent moves but also by language and cultural barriers. Although one does not have to be Hispanic to be a migrant worker, most are from Mexico or from Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. Spanish is the most common language spoken, but some families speak Spanish as their second language and an Indian dialect as their first.
In the central Virginia region, before Migrant Education began, the principal of Red Hill Elementary School and community church volunteers reached out to the local migrant population, offering childcare during work hours. Albemarle Regional Migrant Education began in 1968, building on the work which had been started by these volunteers.
In the early years of Albemarle Migrant Education, the students in the program were children of families who came to work in the local apple and peach orchards. They arrived in July in time for picking peaches and were gone by the end of October at the end of the apple harvest. During the approximately six weeks the families were here, Albemarle Regional Migrant Education offered ESOL classes to the adults in the migrant camps where they lived and tutored the children in school. Frequently, many of the same individuals and families would return each year, led by Ramon and Vicki Garcia, the crew leaders. During the winter months they resided in Bradenton, Florida, where they picked oranges and grapefruits. Many had extended families, most often from the western Mexico states of Michoacán and Guerrero. Women who had preschool children usually stayed home to care for them instead of working. As soon as the children reached school age, they worked in the orchards alongside the men or in the packing houses, packing the fruit. They lived, as many still do, in migrant "camps" located near the apple and peach orchards. The camps consist of a long connected row or two of concrete, single story, one room, efficiencies with bunk beds. The whole camp shares a communal bathroom. The work day starts at 7 A.M. and ends at about 7 P.M.
Over time, those workers who did not have their families with them sent for their wives and children. Some decided to stay in this area instead of moving on after the harvest. Albemarle Regional Migrant Education responded to this new, year-round population by changing the program into a 12 month program. We continued the school tutoring beyond the six week program length to encompass the entire school year. During the summer months we developed a summer program to offer assistance to students during the time they were out of school. Some years the program was offered in the local elementary school, other years our classroom was an old school bus parked in one of our family's backyard.
Slowly, some families started to exit the migrant stream, realizing that Central Virginia had good jobs, good schools, and was a safe place to raise a family. Some of these families continued to work in agricultural jobs, but others found permanent work in a variety of industries including lumber mills, construction, or lawn work.
During the 1980's orchardists realized it was to their advantage financially to use all male crews for pickers instead of family groups. That way four or more pickers could live in each room where before there were only one or two, a husband and wife. Current migrant workers who work in the apple and peach orchards, are most frequently men traveling individually or in small groups. The program still serves this population with ESOL classes offered during the harvest season.
The new families who now migrate to the area frequently find employment in a wider variety of jobs, such as in nurseries, vineyards, dairies, or poultry. Although some live in housing provided by their jobs, they most often find their own accommodations. Albemarle Regional Migrant Education serves migrant families or young adults wherever they are living. As a result, our area of service has expanded from the early days in Albemarle County to meet the changing needs of migrant students in the more than 13 cities and counties in our region.
Migrant workers contribute many personal and cultural strengths to our community. These include their strong work ethic, their love of family, and their interest in the education of their children. Albemarle Regional Migrant Education is proud to provide support to help these hardworking people better their lives.