Every year, thousands of men, women and children travel to North Carolina in search of work in agriculture or fishing. Many are school-age children who have chosen to work for a season – or all year – or families with school-age children.
When the harvest and fishing seasons are over, they can move to other states. But while living in North Carolina, these children may qualify for a wide range of academic and social support services through the Migrant Education Program (MEP).
What is the Migrant Education Program? And who is eligible?
The federally funded program, created as part of Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965, helps migrant students “meet high academic challenges by overcoming obstacles created by frequent changes, educational disruptions, cultural differences and linguistic and health problems”, according to the website of the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
These services are in addition to any state, local or federal funds being provided to students in your school district.
“The whole purpose of a migrant program is to provide complementary services to these students. That way, they would have access to Title 1 funding or any existing funds,” said LaTricia Townsend, director of monitoring and support for federal programs at DPI. “It’s the cherry on top. It’s not your baseline. It’s what you’d get on top of that – it’s a layer of support that you’re getting.”
The program does not guarantee services to all students who have moved to North Carolina from another state or country. Instead, eligible students must meet the following criteria:
- They are ages 3-21.
- They have not yet received a high school diploma or the equivalent.
- They moved to a school district within the last 36 months.
- Either their parents, guardians, spouses or themselves must have moved out of economic necessity and have worked in agricultural production or fishing within the last 36 months.
On average, North Carolina has 4,800 to 5,100 students enrolled in an MEP, said Dr. Heriberto Corral, MEP Data Coordinator and Parent Engagement at DPI.
What services can students receive?
Services within a program can be divided into two fields: instructional services and support services.
For preschool students, MEP recruiters can help families enroll their children in a preschool program formalized in their district or they can designate a tutor to provide a minimum of 18 hours of instruction per school year or during the summer.
For older children, the main academic goal of the program is for them to earn a high school diploma, Alvarez said.
K-12 students may receive additional tutoring services beyond what is offered to students attending the school. Districts with standalone programs may also offer tailored summer programs for migrant students.
During the summer, North Carolina sees a “huge influx” of out-of-school youth — those who are not enrolled in a district but are eligible to receive services through a deputy, Corral said. These students, for example, can receive private English lessons or can be linked to high school equivalency programs to earn their degree.
Support services are geared towards ensuring that the needs of migrant families and youth are met so they can fully participate in their education, said Hunter Ogletree, MEP Compliance Coordinator for DPI. The range of services is extensive.
“If a child doesn’t have a mattress to sleep on at night because their family just moved from Florida to North Carolina in a small car and didn’t have the space to bring a mattress, then a support service may be accessing a mattress. for that child so they can rest well to fully participate in school the next day,” explained Ogletree.
Alvarez gave the example of helping a student buy eyeglasses if his family cannot afford them. Recruiters can contact an eye doctor to ask about discounts, speak to a school nurse about programs to get free eyeglasses, or use federal funds to pay for eyeglasses.
Additional support services may include assistance with transportation, interpretation – including, for example, scheduling medical appointments – and advocacy for the family or child. Recruiters also organized classes for migrant students on how to navigate everyday life in North Carolina. This includes lessons on how to order food at a restaurant, obtain an ID or open a bank account.
Who should students and families contact to join an MEP?
Thirty-one North Carolina school districts have their own standalone program — they receive federal funding through DPI but are run by district officials. All other districts are overseen by one of DPI’s regional recruiters, who travel between districts in their region to ensure students receive the services they need.
Click on your district to find additional information about the MEP:
Clinton City Schools students who are eligible to join an MEP can receive benefits through Sampson County Schools, said William Vann, director of special programs for the City of Clinton Schools. Students in Columbus, Greene and Halifax counties, as well as schools in the City of Whiteville, should contact their district for additional information about the local MEP.
When a district identifies at least 50 migrant students, leaders can decide to start an MEP but are not required to do so, said Juan Carlos Alvarez, who oversees the identification and recruitment of students for the program at DPI.
“We are in communication with the largest districts and look forward to the possibility of starting their own autonomous program,” said Alvarez.
What if the student is only in North Carolina for a short time?
Eligible children can receive services regardless of how long they stay in North Carolina.
Townsend said MEPs are not required to serve a student if he or she graduated from high school, turned 22, or moved to another state (or district, if being served by a self-employed program). Additionally, students can no longer receive services if their “eligibility expires 3 years after enrolling in the program and without a new eligibility change that would reset the clock for another 3 years”.
If a student is leaving North Carolina to work in another state, your program’s regional or district recruiter can inform that state’s MEP that a student is heading there using a federal database known as the Migrant Student Information Exchange (MSIX). ).
Through MSIX, states can “ensure proper enrollment, placement and accumulation of credits for migrant children across the country,” according to US Department of Education.
Townsend said that information shared through MSIX is “completely confidential and protected by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)”.
How are students recruited into the program?
Children and families can contact the district or regional MEP recruiter directly for information, Alvarez said.
But when Alvarez was a recruiter for the Bladen County program, he said, the recruiting process was much more involved and required a deep connection to the community.
It started, he said, by understanding what crops were harvested in his township and when most of the workers would arrive. Then he would find schools where young workers or children traveling with workers enrolled. He would find thrift stores, grocery stores, Latino-owned businesses, even laundries around these schools to post flyers or talk to people.
The recruiters also relied on an occupational survey developed by DPI to identify farm worker families enrolling students in North Carolina schools. Until now, the survey was optional, but it will become mandatory in the upcoming 2022-23 school year.
Alvarez said recruiters also work with local farm owners or producer associations to be notified when workers arrive in the state.
When recruiters find workers or children interested in the program, they fill out a certificate of eligibility to determine if the individual can receive the services. The form does not require a Social Security number or proof of citizenship to be eligible.
Alvarez said information provided to recruiters is completely confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and cannot be shared unless requested by a judge.
“If you think you might qualify, we want to talk to you to see if you’re eligible,” Ogletree said. “And then you can enjoy all these high-quality services that we offer.”