Summer migrant school teacher Jolynn Werner, who also teaches English at Breckenridge High School, has been invited to speak at the National Migrant and Child of Poverty Conference held in Texas in November.
She and another teacher from Minnesota will speak to attendees about how their schools design the school day in the migrant program, what they find issues with and any challenges the students are having in the program.
Students who attend the migrant school program in Breckenridge come from Texas each April, Werner said, and spend six weeks in the program. Some leave in July after the planting season is done, and others stay through the end of harvest, which could run through the end of October. They then move on to another migrant program or travel back home to Texas.
“We have to stay in close contact with our schools in Texas as well, the migrant counselors and regular counselors, to make sure we get those kids into the program,” she said. “Their schools are so much larger than ours, sometimes it’s easier for us to see what they need here, in a smaller population.”
Werner said contrary to popular belief, the migrant students are often not behind in their studies when they come to Breckenridge.
“With the summer school program, usually the reading levels and the math levels are really spot-on with what our same-aged students are doing here,” she said.
The difference she finds between her migrant and permanent students is the migrant students often don’t think college is a possibility, she said.
“For them, they think, I graduate and I go to work, or I graduate and I go into the military, which is fine, too. We really try to get students access to colleges so that they have an idea that they could go on to college, and what sort of resources are out there for them,” she said. “So many of them, their families never went to college.”
The majority of migrant students are family-oriented, she explained, and feel leaving their families to go to college is abandoning them.
“But there are more families who encourage their kids to go on to college,” she said.
Through the years, one thing she discovered is the migrant students aren’t competitive with each other.
“In my regular school I can have kids versus one another to challenge them because they want to win, but my migrant students don’t want to beat one another,” she said. “They would much prefer cooperating and working together to find things out. That was one of my big aha moments.”
Something disturbing Werner said she’s uncovered through the years while teaching migrant students, is that migrant families seem to have a higher rate of cancer than the general population.
“In some cancers, it’s 90 percent higher in the migrant workers,” she said, explaining it’s thought the workers’ exposure to pesticides in the fields is most likely at fault.
“We talk to the students about the health risks, too,” she added.
The students aren’t the only ones learning during class. Werner’s work with the migrant school program has enlightened her as well, she said.
“It’s taught me to be more patient, I would say, with all of my students who struggle … I’m more cognizant of providing them more tools and resources to help get them where they need to be. I’ve always liked the underdog, and I always think of those kids as the underdog, but there’s no reason they can’t come out on top.”