Migrant Students Get an Education in Owatonna

Courtesy of the Owatonna People’s Press

Owatonna, Minn. — This summer, children, who may only spend a few months in Owatonna are getting an education.

Migrant students — those who move north with parents who work seasonal jobs — can attend school while they are in Owatonna. The migrant students go to school in the morning with traditional Owatonna summer school students. Summer school at Wilson Elementary School, Owatonna Junior High School and Alternative Learning Center starts at 8 a.m., and ends at noon. Then, the migrant students come together until their school day ends at 2:15 p.m.

In the afternoon, the students participate in a lot of activities. On Tuesday, they went outside and planted seeds in the Wilson school garden. Last Thursday, the students toured a farm and saw cows, sheep, ducks and horses.

Student Evelyn Duran, a seventh-grader from Texas, said she enjoys the afternoon activities.

“I love taking the trips,” she said. “It’s a lot more fun than sitting in class.”

In the future, they will take afternoon field trips to River Springs Water Park and the Owatonna Public Library, as well as a daylong trip to the Como Park Zoo in the Twin Cities.

But it’s not all gardening and taking trips, student Jazmine Ramon said. Along with taking trips, the students will study math, science, English and participate in physical education.

After canceling the voluntary migrant education program in 2010, Owatonna district director of special services Mark Krug said the district brought it back last summer after speaking with Lakeside Foods.

“For a while, we were experiencing a decreasing amount of migrant families coming to Owatonna, so it wasn’t worthwhile to have a migrant program, so that is why we discontinued it for a year,” he said. “In 2011, hearing from Lakeside that they were much more active in recruitment and expecting more families coming up, we reinstituted the program.”

In 2011, there were only about 15 migrant students. This summer, the numbers have more than doubled to nearly 40. The migrant students are in school from 7:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. The longer schedule is more for the parents’ benefit than the students.

“The majority of those students are coming from camp, so their parents are either working over at Lakeside or heading out to the fields early in the morning, so we need to provide the students with some type of supervision,” Krug said. “Basically, that’s why we have them early in the morning, so we can give them a safe structured environment.

The program runs concurrent to the Owatonna summer school program.

Students are in class Monday through Thursday for the final two weeks of June. After taking a week off from July 2-6, the students will head back to school for the second and third week of July. After summer school ends, the migrant students will stay in class for two more weeks.

Along with having elementary, junior high and high school programs, Owatonna also offers a migrant head start program through the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council. Children ages 6 weeks to 5 years can attend for free, if they meet income qualifications.

Center manager Jennifer Mazouz said the life of a migrant is a life of transition. The children move twice a year, meaning that they may live in Texas for half the year and Minnesota for the other half.

“When you get uprooted twice a year, it can be easy to fall behind,” Mazouz said. “For older students, they may leave in October, in the middle of the school year. It can be tough to make up those credits. Migrant students need our help to get those credits.”

For the preschool students, the Owatonna migrant head start program gets them off to a solid start.

“We want to set a good foundation, so they can handle a life that full of transitions,” Mazouz said. “We want them to be ready for kindergarten, ready for school.”

Wilson teacher Jamie Skala is working with migrant students for the first time this summer. She said she has been amazed at how well students from so many different locations get along.

“It’s really cool to see them interact with each other,” Skala said. “They are very close knit. The older children help the younger ones. They take care of each other. “

Derek Sullivan can be reached at 444-2372. Follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan.