Education, Farmworker Children

Migrant School Leaves One Less Worry for Farmworker Parents

From, Richard Dymond, 3 Oct 2011.

Dancers in colorful costumes entertain at the third annual Back to School Celebration at Myakka Center school. RICHARD DYMOND/

Dancers in colorful costumes entertain at the third annual Back to School Celebration at Myakka Center school. RICHARD DYMOND/

MYAKKA CITY, FL — Maria Aquino has been a migrant farmworker for the past 11 years, and she says there are things that could make her life better.

For instance, Aquino is a Spanish-only speaker, but she would like to take English classes if they were offered at night, after her shift at Falkner Farms in Myakka City.

She would like to have a Florida driver license.

She would like to be less exhausted.

But there is one excellent thing about her current situation, Aquino told Phoebe McGuire, 21, an Eckerd College student studying cross-cultural communication and counseling.

“My son, Roquel, is learning a lot at the school here,” Aquino said of her 3-year-old.

Although they have many challenges in their lives, many of these Falkner Farms migrant parents said the Myakka Center school meets or exceeds their expectations.

A total of 126 children attend the school, 35100 S.R. 64 E., Myakka City, from September to June via federal funding.

The three-year-old school, part of the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, hosted its third annual Back to School Celebration on Sunday morning.

“These parents are working sun-up to sun-down, and we are glad that we are one less concern in their lives,” said Annette Betts, director of the Myakka Center, which employs 32 teachers who educate the children from 7 a.m. until their parents, who head to a Falkner farm in Michigan every June, are finished work.

“We are not a day-care center, we provide education,” Betts said. “The children of migrant farmworkers are no different than any child of the same age. But what we have noticed is that the parents seem to provide them a love for learning and a sense of the importance of getting an education. Because of the parents, we are able to form an effective team. The parent’s expectations are high and so are ours.”

The students in the school, who range from six weeks to 5 years old, score in a high percentile in national literacy testing, Betts said.

When work calls

To illustrate how hard their lives can be, only a handful of the roughly 150 adults expected were able to make Sunday’s celebration, even though it was planned for some time. Good weather and current crop conditions meant most adults were called out to work the fields.

Aquino works in a different division and was one of the few parents to attend.

It would be extremely unlikely that a parent would skip work to come to this event.

“They accept that it is their responsibility to make money so their family can survive,” said Rosie Mendez, an outreach specialist for the Center for Migrant Education at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Mendez attended to talk to parents about programs her agency offers, including dorm rooms at USF so migrant farmworkers can get their high school equivalent, or GED, Mendez said.

For the fifth year in a row, sponsor Tropicana supplied food, including 50 pizzas and orange juice, said Paul Ahnberg, Tropicana’s safety and environmental manager.

“The Acapulco Bakery in Bradenton also provided the cake,” said Esperanza Gamboa, of the Farmworker Education and Services Program at Manatee Technical Institute, which co-hosts the event annually with Tropicana’s Adelante Team.

A unique part of this year’s event was the participation by Amy Share, Sarah Irwin, Liz Pritchard and McGuire from Eckerd College.

The four are in the Human Development program at Eckerd, which could prepare them to go into social work, psychology or teaching.

The four expressed awe and respect for a farmworker’s daily burden.

“Many things about their lives are unfair and troubling, but they are excellent, very impressive people,” Pritchard said.

Source and photos:, “Migrant school leaves one less worry for farmworker parents” by Richard Dymond, 3 Oct 2011.


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