Last spring, somewhere between 320 and 350 students participated in the Migrant Education Program in the Caldwell School District.
This year, that number has jumped to 513.
Tamara Lawson, coordinator for migrant education in Caldwell, says the increase doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more migrant students in the area. Rather, the district is doing a better job of reaching them.
“We’re really going the extra mile to identify students who are migrant, who perhaps may have fallen under the rug,” Lawson said. “…If we don’t know who they are then we can’t help address their needs.”
The Migrant Education Program serves youth who have moved within the past three years because their families work temporary or seasonal agriculture jobs. The goal of the federally funded initiative is to help those students succeed in school. The programs offer things like tutoring and homework help, summer school, GED and English language help for students who need it.
Statewide, the number of migrant students served by public schools seems to be increasing in recent years, following a period of decline earlier this decade.
In the 2016-2017 school year, State Department of Education spokeswoman Kris Rodine said the state served 2,801 migrant students. By the 2017-2018 year, that number was up to 3,448. The number of migrant students served in 2018-2019 isn’t official yet, Rodine said, but as of March the state counted 3,282.
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Lawson, who started as Caldwell’s migrant-ed coordinator in August, started to wonder about gaps in that district’s recruitment of migrant students only months into the job.
Officials at nearby school districts would tell Lawson about migrant students that they’d heard about, who qualified for extra help through the Caldwell migrant program. But Lawson didn’t always have them on her list.
“It got me thinking: Why haven’t we made contact with these families?” Lawson said.
Around October, Lawson launched an intensive recruiting program, aimed at reaching those eligible kids. Recruiters went to school and community events and followed up on tips about students who qualify for the program.
If the first, second and third tries to reach a family failed, recruiters try again — as was the case with one family who recently joined the program after a recruiter spent more than a month trying to reach them.
Some families don’t want to be identified as migrant, Lawson said, because they’re afraid of the stigma it carries, or they’re worried that joining the program could mean undue attention for their family.
To overcome that barrier, Lawson said recruiters try to address those fears and help families understand that the program is there to help.
“They build that trust with the individual, so they know we’re doing this for them, not to them,” Lawson said.
The result of that push: More than 150 new students enrolled in the span of a year.
More students joining the Caldwell program means more money for the program and more resources and programs for the students.
According to state data, Caldwell’s migrant education program is slated to receive $404,551 from the federal government next school year, a 57 percent increase from what it got for the 2017-18 school year.
The recruitment also means bigger group sizes, Lawson said. Where liaisons working with students used to help a handful of students, some now have groups of 15 or 20 kids to visit.
Students are bonding in some of these groups, Lawson said, and building up support systems.
“They’re able to support each other in the classrooms and communities because they know who each other are,” she said. “I really think that’s helping with their sense of belonging, and they don’t feel alone in the school.”