Program gives kids head start

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

Every July, a sometimes empty schoolhouse on Sheldon Street in Clovis becomes busy as children from South Texas and surrounding areas migrate here with their families and attend preschool while their parents harvest crops.

The Texas Migrant Council (TMC) Head Start offers a unique and fast-paced preschool program from July to November. The program, which accepts children from infants up to kindergarten age, is designed to accommodate the mobile lifestyle and needs of children of migrant farm workers.

“People come to Clovis to harvest cotton, pecans, corn, peanuts, potatoes and, believe it or not, even Christmas trees,” said the center’s manager Susie Aragon. “A lot of our children come from the Uvalde and Laredo, Texas, areas, but in August, we usually get families from Granada, Colo., who work on pumpkin harvests.”

The TMC Head Start currently has two slots open in its infant program and several in its preschool program for 3- to 5-year-olds.

Babies must be at least four weeks old and all children should belong to a migrant family. By definition, that is “a family who travels as a unit from one geological location to another and has moved at least once in the past 24 months.”

According to Aragon, with the children coming and going, it can be a challenge to teach them traditional preschool lessons so they learn fine motor, gross motor, cognitive and social skills.

However, she said a plus of the program is that many continue on in migrant Head Start programs when their families move back to their hometowns for the winter. Another plus, particularly for the Clovis program, is that some staff members, who are also classified as migrant workers, spend half the year working in Laredo and Uvalde and half the year in Clovis, so the children see familiar faces when they go back to their home-based Head Start programs. In addition, the Uvalde program uses the same curriculum, so children can pick up where they left off in Clovis.

Tiffany Segura is a teacher’s aide for Head Start. She teaches in Clovis every July and goes back in the winter to work at Head Start at Uvalde, while also taking classes there at Southwest Texas Junior College. TMC is a part of the No Child Left Behind program, and Head Start teachers are required to earn associate’s degrees, which is what she is doing.

In addition, her parents, Ricardo and Thelma Gonzales, also work for Head Start, spending part of the year in Clovis and part at Uvalde, he as a bus driver and janitor and she as a cook.

“Wherever the migrant children live, we live too. We are like migrants ourselves,” said Segura, who has been with TMC for four years.

Segura leads children in structured activities in science, math, reading, writing, music and outdoor play. Since many of the migrant families live in motels, the Head Start facility is the only playground area for the children.

Aragon said she has a heart for migrant children because she worked in the fields as a child with her family until she finished school.

“They are hard-working people and, yes, they are probably doing some jobs that other people may not want to do,” she said.

Aragon said they go at a fast pace since time with the children is limited. Also, she said during peak harvest times, they extend their normal hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

TMC also has centers in the Texas cities of Plainview, Hereford, Lubbock, Floydada and Muleshoe, as well as centers in Oklahoma, Nevada, Indiana and Ohio. Children also come to the Clovis program from Portales and Farwell.