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Migrant and Seasonal Head Start aids workers
August 12, 2016 Frank Marquez   

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Staff worker Morgan Hernandez takes toddlers Getsemani Aguilera and Ian Aguilera through some of the day’s activities. Courtesy photo

Last Wednesday night, Family Development Coordinator Maria Alvizar translated from English to Spanish a series of presentations for parents of children who attend the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start, a federally funded comprehensive child development program at the Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska located in Gering.

The several parents who sat in a classroom at the Western Nebraska Child Development Center learned about what the program has to offer and how it has benefited their children, marking the important incremental progress that takes place during the farm industry’s growing season from June to August.

The topics ranged from eligibility to transitioning children from one skill level to the next, which ultimately prepares them for attending local public schools.

Program Director Sarah Ochoa, who guides the 45-member staff which includes managers and coordinators overseeing nutrition, health, education, behavioral health, transportation, and the central office, has been with the agency for 27 years. Alvizar, whose responsibilities also include recruitment and enrollment, arrived three years later and has logged 24 years with the agency.

Both have seen relative changes in the national program, but the main goal of providing a safe place for the children remains.

Maria said the staff and families have learned from one another, and has proved beneficial with regard to “more families going back to school, getting better jobs at the professional level, and developing their bilingual skills.”

The program started in the late 1960s, but the Head Start program was established in 1965 for children six weeks to 5-years old. The Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program began locally at Community Action in 1991, when the affiliated Scotts Bluff County facility received a start-up grant. Since then, the program has served thousands of migrant and seasonal workers, who have worked on local farms.

A segment of the families are families that settled in the Panhandle, and work at other jobs during winter.

In 1991, the program began with about 200 children. Presently, funding is designed to accommodate 54 children, but those numbers stand at about 30 children this year. Ochoa said the decline has been due to changes in agriculture, the automation of farming.” Overall, today’s farming methods have presented numerous factors in conflict with labor: the reduced need for thinning crops; herbicide reduced the need for weeding; erratic weather; and because fewer generations of families are farming.

Among the hundreds that remain in west Nebraska, Karla Molinar, 33, and Luis Aguilera, 29, Chihuahua, Mexico, have worked jobs in nearby Minatare for two years. The two are migrant workers with four children. Two of the children attend the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program, taking advantage of the education services provided by Community Action.

Molinar’s two children, daughter Getseamni, 2, and son Giezi, 4, have learned English with the help of a bilingual staff. “She already knows her numbers and letters, and already knows a lot of words in English and Spanish,” Molinar said.

Molinar and Aguilera work at different jobs in the fields. She weeds bean fields, while he helps with planting and irrigation. They moved to west Nebraska from Georgia because of the fluctuating job market. Plus, there’s more family here, which provides a wider network for support, as well as shortening the trip for family members who may visit from Mexico. The trip is about an 18 to
20-hour drive.

Alvizar said the program provides comprehensive services in nutrition, education, health, transportation, mental or behavioral health. “It’s also about school readiness,” Ochoa said. “We help them develop skills, so they can explore, how we attend to the students is based on their age. We make sure they attain the basic skills to be ready to attend public schools. What sets us apart is that we work hand-in-hand with the parents, who form a board to apply for grants, and approve services. We find, the more they are involved , the more successful their kids will be.”

Expounding on the possibilities for migrant and seasonal families, Alvizar added, “we work with families on setting and reaching goals, such as learning, getting a degree, opening a business,” which one family did in Alliance, with the aid of advocates and available resources.

For more information on the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program, call the agency at 308-635-3089.
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