Breaking Barriers for Migrant Families
- September 15, 2023
From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, KCSOS celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month. This month is dedicated to recognizing the countless contributions and influence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. Today, we highlight the contributions and transformative work happening to help migrant families and Hispanic communities in Kern County.
All over the country, migrant families work each day, rain or shine, to cultivate and harvest the crops that sustain America’s food supply. For decades, children born into these families have had to overcome the unique challenges of a migratory way of life. However, in 1966, the Migrant Education Program was established by the Department of Education to meet the educational and social needs of children between 3 to 21 years of age.
Here in Kern County, it is estimated over 10,000 children qualify for Migrant Education services, which include tutoring, extended day services, and rigorous college readiness programs. Large and medium-sized school districts such as Bakersfield City School District and Delano Elementary School District serve some of these students. Most migrant education students are supported by KCSOS’s Migrant Education Program, which serves 6,000 students in districts like Kern High School District or in cities like McFarland.
According to Migrant Coordinator Salvador Avalos, the goal of the Migrant Education Program is to provide resources and programs from childhood to college. He explains that his entire career has been in service of migrant students and was once a migrant student himself.
“I used to be one of those migrant students, and I saw how challenging it was navigating the educational system for myself and my parents. Now that I can help these students and their families, it is easily one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had,” said Avalos. “By providing these educational opportunities, we break the cycle and give them more options for a brighter future.”
However, the job can come with its challenges. According to Gabby Bravo, another former migrant student and current Kern Community Liaison for the Migrant Education department, gaining the parents’ trust can be difficult.
“It is so important to have these trusting connections with the families,” said Bravo.
Avalos underscores this sentiment by explaining how culturally it can be tough for these families to be given things for free, quoting the popular ‘no one gets a free lunch’ mentality often vocalized in these groups. However, the Migrant Education team is passionate about ensuring these families receive these valuable services.
“Once we gain their trust, they become some of the most loyal, trustworthy families you’ll ever meet,” said Avalos. “It’s all about mutual respect and trust.”
As the community liaison, Bravo works closely with families to plan parent meetings, organize statewide parent conferences, and create resources to educate parents on the opportunities available to them and their children. For Bravo, building that trust is how parents feel more comfortable letting their students attend tours of college campuses and overnight camps.
“One of the reasons we focus on educating parents is to bridge the knowledge gap between the educational system in the U.S. and their home countries,” said Bravo. “We have implemented various ways to do that. One of the ways we used to do this is with something we called Project Padre, which helps train parents to give presentations on the benefits of Migrant Education resources. Through these trainings, parents gain valuable skills and enough confidence to return to school to become teachers or health representatives.”
Though challenging, this program has always been a two-way street for Avalos and Bravo.
“What we’re doing for these students is what people did for us back in our day,” said Avalos. “While it feels good to be a part of their journey, it’s all about collaboration. We work with other Migrant Ed teams throughout the county to help every migrant student. This mission must be bigger than the individual, and in Kern County, it seems to be going on the right path.”
Stay tuned for more stories highlighting Hispanic Heritage from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month.