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Sheila Newman was bombarded by the knee-high inhabitants of the Reyeses house. Marcia, 4, and Clarita, 3, clamored around Newman, shouting “hellos” and showing off pink princess necklaces.
Newman cooed appropriately over the plastic jewelry and walked upstairs to the kitchen.
The house was fairly empty because the Reyeses’ still were settling in after a recent move. Little Eduardo, 1, was asleep on the couch; Joseline, 7, and Francisco, 9, were preparing for a tutoring session with Newman.
Newman has been working with the Reyes family for a few months. She is a tutor with Hardin County Schools’ Migrant Education Program. The program allows students in families who move frequently because of work to receive extra attention to ensure their transitions don’t leave them lagging in school.
But the program goes beyond that and tutors become another voice to help the families meet students’ needs.
Tutors discuss papers sent home from school with parents who sometimes speak little English. They direct the youngest members to the preschool program and older family members to GED opportunities. Tutors can direct the families to other resources, too, to help meet any needs they might have.
Newman is preparing to help Altegracia Reyes, mother of the five children, earn a driver’s license.
Altegracia Reyes speaks Spanish and communicates to Newman through Francisco. She said, through Francisco’s translation, that Newman is helping her learn English and she’s happy her children have help in school.
“She doesn’t know how to help us with our homework,” Francisco said of his mother.
The national migrant program was created in 1966 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. It was felt that children of mobile workers were overlooked in school, according to information provided by HCS.
HCS has five tutors who each work with two to three families each. They travel to family homes in the evening to work on homework with students or anything that deserves additional attention.
Lana Mitchell, a teacher at New Highland Elementary School, has worked with the program for two years. As a classroom teacher during the day, Mitchell said she saw communication breakdowns with Spanish-speaking families. Going into homes allows a teacher to get to know them better and learn what they need, from setting up teacher conferences to finding a day care provider.
Nanette Martinez works with Mitchell and the Hernandez family. She has been in the program for two years. She and Mitchell visit Esmeralda and Kendra Hernandez’s home once or twice a week.
At a recent visit, Kendra related the story of “The Gingerbread Man” to “Miss Lana” and they discussed Esmeralda’s thoughts on entertainer Justin Bieber. They also went over a progress report with her mother, Maivi.
“I like working in the home better,” Martinez said. “It’s more personal, you get to know the family better.”
Martinez has been surprised how happy the families are to have them visit.
“They’re very welcoming,” she said. “They appreciate the help.”
When she started with the migrant program, Mitchell was surprised by the diversity of the families. One thing that unites the families is their desire to see children succeed.
“They’re just like all other parents,” she said. “They want the best for their children.”
Michael Radford, a teacher at North Hardin High School, works with two preschool students.
It “keeps me thinking on a different realm,” Radford said.
He said he really has to think about the needs of 4-year-olds, something dramatically different than his high school students.
Radford has been a part of the program for at least 10 years, he said. He has eaten meals with the families and was invited to the wedding of one of his first students.
“They’re not just clients, they’re family after a while,” Radford said.
Tutors and the families gather regularly. At a recent event, program director Robin Pitvorec and the tutors discussed ways the families could winterize their homes to save on energy costs and provided materials to do so. They also gave a baby gift to an expectant family.
Pitvorec originally joined the program as a tutor because she liked the idea of breaking down barriers.
“I guess I felt like I was giving something,” she said.
Mitchell enjoys seeing children succeed in school.
“I enjoy the kids,” she said. “I wouldn’t teach all day and do it at night” if that wasn’t the case.
The downside to growing close to the families, however, comes when they leave. Because of the nature of the program, the families often move, and if not, they no longer can receive the program’s services after three years.
“To me, that’s the hardest part of the program,” Martinez said.
The Crossfield family recently returned to Newman’s care. They moved to Radcliff in October, after living in Meade County for eight months. The family moves for work in the cattle industry.
They’ve known Newman for a couple years. Kim Crossfield, sought out the program so her sons, Austin and Cody, could receive tutoring. She’s happy they receive extra help in their schoolwork and the boys love Newman, she said.
“When we moved for eight months, oh, they couldn’t wait to come back,” she said.
Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or email@example.com.