Bridges to Success in High School for Migrant Youth
by Margaret A. Gibson & Nicole Hidalgo — 2009
Background/Context: Among the children of immigrants, one of the populations placed at greatest risk of not finishing high school are the children of migrant farmworkers. Although it is difficult to track graduation rates for migrant students because of their mobility, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that only half of all migrant children finish high school. These children face many of the same obstacles as children of immigrants whose families must cope with severe economic hardships, but they also must deal with additional challenges associated with their families’ migratory lifestyles and living situations.
Purpose: This article offers some background on the barriers that migrant youth face in school; describes the services provided to these young people by the federally funded Migrant Education Program, focusing on the authors’ research on the role of migrant education resource teachers; and discusses the implications of study findings and related research for improving educational opportunities for low-income children of immigrants.
Research Design: Findings are drawn from 4 years of ethnographic research in one Northern California high school, where 80% of the Mexican-descent migrant students in the Class of 2002 completed 12th grade, and from a set of comparative interviews carried out with migrant education resource teachers in four additional high schools. The analysis centers on the nature of the relationships that develop between migrant students and migrant teachers, including the teachers’ multiple roles as mentors, counselors, advocates, and role models, and on the kinds of support provided to students that help them navigate successfully through high school.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Study findings suggest that the migrant students’ school persistence and academic success were due at least in part to the supplemental services they received from the Migrant Education Program and, in particular, to the support provided to them by the migrant resource teachers. A key to the teachers’ effectiveness was the holistic nature of their relationships with students and their ability to connect students with the resources and networks needed for school success. In addition, the migrant teachers’ own identities as academically successful Mexican Americans, many of them the children of migrant farmworkers themselves, increased their ability to serve as role models and to help students build bridges between their multiple worlds. Findings support many of those reported in the literature on successful college outreach programs. Unlike these programs, the Migrant Education Program is not selective; it serves all eligible students.
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