Beginning in 1965, Congress began to act to protect the educational rights of all children in the United States and established the Migrant Education Program to reach out to the children of migrant farm workers, whose transitory lives with often undocumented parents shut them out of even a basic education. Today, the No Child Left Behind Act, initiated by President Bush in 2001, provides the funds to the Collier County school district for this program. According to Juan Medina, one of the speakers, the Collier County Migrant Education program is one of the largest in the nation, exceeded only by Texas and California. The program is now helping 32 Tommie Barfield students, 9 Marco Charter Middle Students and 17 Lely High School Students.
Medina, a former migrant farm worker and beneficiary of the program, elaborated on why the program is crucial to bringing the local migrant children into the mainstream, “It wasn’t easy for me to graduate. I went to at least 4 different schools during the school year. All the schools were at different levels. It was so hard to keep up. It was very frustrating.” When a child and his/her family work with a recruiter from the program however, the child receives school supplies and a backpack, access to computers, tutoring, guidance counseling, and perhaps most importantly, a liaison to help the parents understand why their child needs to finish school and see that their child can achieve higher education. “Now people areseeing that education pays off (instead of sending the child to work in the fields). They can see that their son or daughter can go to school and be a doctor, a teacher,” said Medina.
Brigita Gahr, the Coordinator for the Title I program, explained to the Bedtime Bundles volunteers why the charities’ work is so important now that this winters’ freeze has damaged between 52,000 and 70,000 acres of crops: the government provides assistance only to children of parents who are currently working and whose work disrupts their child’s education. “Farms like 6L (the farm local to Marco Island) are allowing their crews to stay with no rent, because they don’t want to lose their workers, but if you have no money, how do you buy food, how do you keep warm?” Gahr and her staff coordinate with Bedtime Bundles to help make sure supplies reach children where, and when, they need it most. Having a small bundle that child can carry helps make sure the child can keep a blanket, teddy bear or much needed jacket, because migrant workers reach the next job at the next farm any way they can, with only what they can carry.
Karen Saeks, founder and president of Bedtime Bundles, summed up her experience of the lecture: “The more I personally learn about the migrant population, the more I respect them for their work ethic and dedication to their families.”
The Lunch and Learn lecture series is free and open to the public. It is held at Mackle Park. Attendees are welcome to bring their lunch with them. The next lecture in the series, Meet the Marco Island Police Department, will be held on March 17 at the Marco Police Department. For more information, contact the Bedtime Bundles office at 239-393-3415.