In late 2021, the president of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) as well as the president of the Association for Mexicans in North Carolina reached out to Fordham Graduate School of Education professor and associate dean Diane Rodriguez, Ph.D., who was previously on the Board of Head Start. They had a grant to examine why migrant farmworkers were not sending their children to preschool or enrolling them in the available Head Start program.
Rodriguez presented the case to ICI doctoral students in her class on multicultural global competencies as an opportunity to work on the research. One of the necessary outcomes would be to identify factors as to why some families are not sending their children to the Head Start program, and the factors as to why some families do send their children.
According to doctoral student and research lead Tricia Clarke, “We were studying the educational impact for students who are multilingual learners or who share variations of spoken English in the class. Professor Rodriguez shared with us the need to examine why multilingual families on the East Coast were not sending their children to available preschool programs such as Head Start. What was the hindrance? That is how our group came together to tackle the problem.”
The study became known as Partnership Between Families and Early Childhood Education Programs: Perspectives From Multilingual Migrant Parents.
It was thought that communication was creating a barrier for children and their families, as English was the main language being used. Many migrant farmworkers do not speak or read English and are transitory, traveling state to state from Florida to Maine along the east coast as work becomes available. Head Start does have portable schools to accommodate the migrant workers, but many families live far away from them, don’t know about the schools, or don’t feel engaged or part of the programs offered; therefore, they don’t send their children to school.
This was the team’s beginning hypothesis, that communication was a barrier between and among the various stakeholders. Once communication was established as the problem, including the extent to which it became a barrier to sending children to preschool programs, they would be able to propose solutions.
The team’s research began with an online survey for the administrators, teachers and parents to respond to on communication and their perception of communication as a barrier to enrolling children in the program. Focus groups were also conducted through bilingual team members, in-person and via Zoom. The survey and focus group portions of the study have been completed and data is being reviewed. The team intends to soon be able to propose ways that schools, teachers and administrators can engage multilingual families in the education of their children. They need to make parents feel comfortable in becoming involved in their children’s education, plus make them aware of the early childhood educational opportunities available.
For those migrant parents with children enrolled in Head Start in North Carolina, most seemed satisfied that the program supports their children’s academic, social and emotional needs. Quotes from these parents include:
“It is important for the development of the children. It is very good. I have [seen]a difference in my child, especially since my child is an only child. The program has helped him with socialization skills.”
“Being with other kids is important because sometimes kids are by themselves at home.”
“My child’s vocabulary has been increasing. He has been developing academically and socially.”
“It’s important that the program continues supporting immigrant families.”
Professor and associate dean Diane Rodriguez, Ph.D., said of the doctoral students, “I am proud of their commitment to social justice and desire to make a difference in education and many children’s lives. This scholarly work and productive research will be submitted for publication consideration and shared at conferences—it’s replicable.”
Research Lead: Tricia Clarke; Research Design: Robert Niewiadomski; Data Analysis: Lovell Quiroz; Data Collection: Ana De Jesus; Literature Reviewers: Yidan Shao, Xueyi Luo, Yimeng Li.