This is our land. These are our children. We’re all in it together.
~Brochure for the Van Buren Intermediate School District, Project NOMAD (Needs and Objectives for Migrant Advancement and Development), 1972 and 1973.
In the early seventies, as a young college student, I became an aide for two summers, in the Michigan Migrant Education Program. It sealed the deal for me to become a teacher.
The federal program, started in 1965, was funded through Public Law 89-750 Title I Migrant of the Elementary and Secondary Act authorized educational programs for the children of migrant agricultural workers.
The word migratory worker may now be preferred to migrant, to signify that this is their current condition and not their inherent nature.
Summer school provided a respite for children of migrant families who worked on the farms picking the produce we all enjoyed. You can still find these programs in some schools across the nation. In Michigan, NOMAD seems to still be going strong.
It’s not clear what changes are being made under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. There are many revisions to the federal document which can be found here https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/edfacts/eden/non-xml/fs122-14-0.docx. I was unable to provide a direct link. I have only glanced at this document.
Life is not easy for these families and their children. Our job was to help students learn and have fun, and to put parents at ease when it came to assisting their children over the summer. It was an honor to work with such delightful children and get to know the families.
It seems like now is a good time to write about this experience.
Our program provided funds to help improve academic performance.
The plan covered the following:
- Oral Language Development
- Science and Arithmetic
- Health Care
- Family Education
- Family Services
- Computerized Records (Even then a student’s record could be quickly obtained from any point in the U.S.)
I worked under a teacher’s direction. She was a stickler for precise bulletin boards. I made reading materials, organized activities, and supervised students working and playing on the playground.
There was some assessment, but it was mostly for teacher information.
What I enjoyed was individually tutoring children and working with small groups.
We provided a variety of reading material the children found interesting. We worked on decoding sounds.
We took field trips—one to the Kellogg’s plant in Battle Creek and others to parks where the children had fun. It was summer after all. My students were always excited to make new discoveries.
We carefully looked for ways to celebrate the culture from which the children came. Families took pride in the work we were doing with their children. We wanted to make everyone feel at home.
While the program focused on academics, it included the arts. Children were encouraged to be creative. At the end of the summer, they put on a presentation for their families that incorporated art and music, reflective of the children’s culture and America too. My class, 7-year-olds, did a beautiful mural about Mexico.
We aides and teachers took in-service before the start of the program to learn about where our students were coming from, what they knew about America, and also the idiosyncratic differences children would bring to the classroom that we needed to understand.
This is what second language teachers do in our public schools today.
For example, we were taught that when a child in our program looked down when spoken to, it was not a sign of disrespect. It was most respectful. For someone like me, new to working with children, this was interesting and helpful to learn.
At the end of the summer, mothers showed up to cook an authentic Mexican meal in the school cafeteria, to show their appreciation.
I rode the school bus to supervise the children going home after school. I also rode the school bus the night of the big fiesta, at the end of the summer, to celebrate our children’s accomplishments with their families. I watched Moms, Dads, Aunts, and Uncles, Grandpas, and Grandmas, file out of small, very small, shelters, to ride the bus to see their children perform.
I don’t think I have ever since witnessed the pride I saw in those families for their children and their accomplishments. The appreciation was magnanimous!
I recall this now, at this time, when we see America tearing families apart. When children are placed in churches, to be fostered out to strangers. It is unconscionable. How must parents and children feel?
I understand that the immigration problems today are complicated. I know that some kind of vetting is called for.
But, I am also aware, and proud, that I too come from two Hungarian grandparents, one who found their way to Ellis Island and the other to Philadelphia, to claim their new life in the melting pot called America. They worked hard and went through many difficulties, but it is because of them that I can lead the good life that I lead today.
We are talking today about families seeking asylum, for dangerous conditions in their hometowns. This is different in some ways with the migrant situation I write about here. But it is also similar in the love these parents have for their children and wanting nothing more than to protect them.
I don’t understand today’s cruelty.
America has never been perfect. Certainly, public schools had many problems in the ’70s. But I remember the way my school cared, and reached out to children and families in need, those Michigan summers.
I am ashamed to watch today’s America, with leaders who are narcissistic and cruel, who pick on the weak and who seem to have no solutions involving kindness.
Our public schools reflect society, and federal programs, like NOMAD, to show us our better, compassionate side.
I want a country that highlights such programs, and more! The word that stands out in my memory, plastered on our classroom walls, and in the halls of that public school, is:
This is the real America of which we must aspire! This is our land. These are our children. We’re all in it together.