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Cooperative Extension 4-H program helps migrant children bridge two cultures|
By Karen L. Trimbath
| As the daughter of a Mexican migrant farmworker living in Chester County, Elizabeth Garduno felt self-conscious about her ability to speak English. But her self-confidence grew after she enrolled in nonformal education programs for migrant children developed by Penn State Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development and the Chester County Migrant Education Program. While in high school, she also began working part time for the Chester County Migrant Education Program and the Presbyterian Health Center.|
This combination of school, work, 4-H and related activities fostered within her a strong self-identity and awareness of her desire to go on to college. Today, Garduno is a second-year Penn State student who wants a career teaching migrant children. She even spent this summer working both as a summer assistant for the Cooperative Extension 4-H program and as a teaching assistant for the migrant education program and has no qualms about speaking her mind.
I wouldnt be here right now if it hadnt been for Cooperative Extension and 4-H. I wouldnt have been aware of my goals, Garduno said. It helped me become the person I am today.
Garduno vividly remembers the culture shock she felt upon arriving in Chester County. As a child in Mexico, she believed the United States was the same as Mexico, with a similar culture and language, but the reality turned out to be more difficult.
Her story shows Cooperative Extension and 4-H address more than agricultural concerns. Program partnerships can change lives through education, according to Laurie Szoke, extension agent for youth development and 4-H in Chester County. She notes the collective efforts of Cooperative Extension and 4-H staff, teachers and other community volunteers to help migrant children and their parents build a bridge between Mexican and U.S. cultures. Szoke and her colleagues are developing this nonformal education program in collaboration with organizations that work with migrants. The partnership draws on federal funds distributed through state and local organizations.
While 4-H and Cooperative Extension are commonly thought to focus on agriculture and the home sciences, both have transcended these activities by addressing societal issues, such as migrant needs, Szoke added. Our job isnt to only provide information, but to create opportunities so that people will take hold of their lives. This work is part of a land-grant universitys purpose.
The program incorporates research-based education into free after-school and summer activities. Students are migrant children and youth between the ages of 5 and 21 who learn such skills as computers, English skills and photography. In the process, they learn character building, youth development, leadership and self-esteem. Sessions are conducted in both English and Spanish, depending on the groups language abilities, and are taught by Cooperative Extension staff, area teachers and other 4-H volunteers.
Penn States program and curriculum are excellent. The teachers think highly of them, said Maria Turse, an instructional adviser for migrant education for the Chester County Intermediate Unit. Having people like Laurie serve as a liaison between agencies is invaluable. She organizes interagency meetings and keeps us informed.
Dr. Marilyn Corbin, assistant director of Penn State Cooperative Extension and state program leader for children, youth and families, agrees. She calls the program ideally suited to address a critical community need. This program illustrates Cooperative Extensions role of reaching out to communities to identify education needs and working with other community partners to develop educational outreach programs to meet these needs. This is what we do best.
Frederick W. Davis, regional director for the Southeast Region of Cooperative Extension and Outreach, praised the Chester County Cooperative Extension Office for its outreach programming, noting, This a great example of how Cooperative Extension is able to address specific needs of a diverse audience using a combination of traditional, as well as nontraditional 4-H and youth programs. By using innovative approaches to reach the Mexican population in Chester County, especially its youth, we have been able to provide needed education for adult members of the family as well, especially in the foods and nutrition areas. The Cooperative Extension Office also uses bilingual volunteers to assist its staff members. The use of bilingual volunteers has really enhanced our ability to grow our programs, he said.
Szoke likens the process of reaching out to these children as planting a seed and seeing where it grows. Its an apt metaphor, considering that migrant workers are drawn to Chester County because of its strong agricultural industry. Many workers are employed at mushroom farms near Kennett Square, also known as the mushroom capital of the world. Other jobs are available at local dairy, livestock, horse and produce farms.
Years ago, the migrants came from Puerto Rico, but now the majority, like Garduno and her family, come from Mexico. Today, Chester County, which has a total population of 433,000, is home to 16,120 Hispanic persons, according to the 2000 U.S. census. Of this number, 8,226 are Mexicans, or 1.9 percent of the total population.
Approximately 1,942 migrant youth between the ages of 3 and 21 years are enrolled in the Chester County Migrant Education Program. Because their families frequently move in pursuit of agricultural jobs, migrant students who cross a school district line are eligible for a range of supplemental educational services, such as early learning programs, distance learning programs, English as a Second Language programs, secondary programs and family services.
Over time, Szoke and her colleagues have developed ways to integrate migrant children into the community, including:
Through partnerships, we can create strong communities, Szoke said. This program model introduces to new partners the opportunity to extend research, to apply knowledge and to lend a helping hand in fostering individual, family and community health.
Breaking down the barriers
For the past three summers, Szoke has teamed up with New York songwriter and singer Juan Avila to help migrant children strengthen self-identity through music, photography and other cultural arts. Together, they have developed a curriculum that helps kids express their feelings; this years program included a Web site on which students could post their writings.
The son of migrant workers living in Texas, Avila knows what these children are going through.
Our plan is to develop self-esteem and confidence in our Latino youth, Avila said. Thats the beauty of our program. We try to show them some alternative thinking patterns. Depending on our thoughts, we will make decisions that influence our lives.
For instance, Avila teaches his young students how to shake hands and look people in the eyes. According to Avila, this skill is important, because many of these children feel shame over their status as migrants and their brown skin. Also, some are withdrawn, because their parents are undocumented workers and therefore shun recognition.
The children wrote down their thoughts and feelings, and then Avila turned their writings into a song titled Retumba Y-Truena or It Rumbles and Thunders, which the children recorded in the classroom.
According to Avila, the songs lyrics show that the children do have something they believe in. Theyve come out of their shells. The following stanza, written by student Felipe Baeza Zavala, reflects an important lesson also shared by others involved in migrant education:
They shouted at them, but they did not understand.
Look at me with compassion.
Respect is what unites all human beings.
© 2002 Outreach Communications, Outreach & Cooperative Extension, The Pennsylvania State University
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