ERIC Identifier: ED405158
Publication Date: 1997-03-00
Author: Morse, Susan C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Unschooled Migrant Youth: Characteristics and Strategies To
Serve Them. ERIC Digest.
This digest explores the phenomenon of the unschooled migrant youth in U.S.
communities and schools. The digest begins by describing the youth themselves
and their first encounters with schools. It then explains how different programs
and schools have responded to their needs.
WHO ARE UNSCHOOLED MIGRANT YOUTH?
The children of fishermen
and farmworkers who move with their families to seek temporary or seasonal work
in fishing and agriculture are considered migrant students under the Improving
America's Schools Act of 1994 (for more information about recent changes in
federal law related to migrant education, see Wright, 1995). Older youth (aged
12-21) who enter the school system with little prior educational experience,
often, are non-English-speaking immigrants who are illiterate in their own
language. In this country they suffer continuing mobility and interruptions in
their schooling--conditions that increase their chances of dropping out (State
University of New York [SUNY], 1987).
Why are these youth unschooled? Some migrant youth are from cultures (e.g.,
Hmong) that have no written language and rely on oral tradition. Some may not
have attended school because their homes were remote from schooling
opportunities. Others missed schooling due to frequent moves caused by economic
need or political turmoil (Prewitt Diaz, Trotter, & Rivera, 1989).
IMPACTS ON SCHOOLS AND UNSCHOOLED YOUTH
A shock to the
system. Unschooled migrant youth represent a small percentage of the school
population. Their rarity may contribute to the failure of the schools to prepare
for them. The organizational structure of many middle and high schools inhibits
the ability of staff to arrange for special assistance. Students who need to
work in small groups or tutorials or use technology aids are limited by the
segmented schedules. Most classroom teachers are not trained to help integrate
youth with special needs into their classes.
Life on Mars. Student access to schools is limited by structural factors such
as school calendars, attendance rules, enrollment caps, and eligibility
requirements for special programs. In addition, access can be limited by school
staff, who discourage migrant students' efforts to enroll by telling them it is
too late in the year to enroll, or they would be too far behind, or they will
feel out of place (based on personal communications with migrant education
staff, migrant parents, and students over a 20-year period).
When these youth do enter school, they find all aspects of the experience
alien: cultural and socioeconomic clashes, language obstacles, bells, buying
lunch tickets, finding bathrooms and lockers, and remembering schedules. Many
U.S. high schools are larger than the hometowns of the unschooled youth (Mounts,
1986). After school, youth may return home to additional pressures to provide
child care, supplement the family income, and serve as liaisons with the outside
When they first arrive, unschooled migrant youth and their families need
basic information about foods, medicine, public agencies, transportation,
traffic and other laws, and emergency services. They also need friendships in
the community to reduce the isolation that often inhibits successful integration
into our system. And they need English and literacy instruction.
FINDING A PROGRAM MODEL THAT FITS
Communities are faced
with addressing these multiple needs as best they can. Described next are some
models and strategies that have proved helpful to unschooled migrant youth in
several U.S. communities. Each description is followed by a source for more
Transitional model. The Madera Unified School District (California) has
developed a program to identify needs of, and provide services for, unschooled
limited-English-speaking students (migrants or immigrants) enrolling in the
schools. The Newcomer Assessment Center is feasible due to the large numbers of
unschooled students found in this agricultural community. It serves students (a)
who have attended school for 2 years or less, or had sporadic attendance; (b)
whose language proficiency level is non-English or limited-English; or (c) who
have limited or no literacy skills in any language. There are separate centers
for middle and high school students. Students are transitioned out of the
programs within 9 months. Qualifying migrant students who arrive late due to the
harvest schedule are admitted.
The program goals are (a) to familiarize youth with the school protocol, (b)
to develop basic literacy in the home language or English or both, and (c) to
transition students into the regular school with an individual learning plan
(ILP). Developed by a team, an ILP helps (a) coordinate the involvement of
parents and youth in assessing need, (b) design an appropriate program, and (c)
employ all resources available for the unschooled youth. (Contact Kathy Lopes,
Madera Unified School District, 1902 Howard Road, Madera, CA 93637.)
Supplementary model. The Migrant Education Program in Pennsylvania, which has
emphasized services to secondary migrant youth, offers after-school tutorial
support to unschooled youth who have enrolled in school, and literacy and ESL
evening classes to youth who work. (Contact Fran Mannino Corse, Mifflin House,
P.O. Box 1002, Millersville University, Millersville, PA 17551.)
Alternative models. Adult basic education programs throughout the United
States serve older unschooled youth. They may offer literacy and other classes
in the first language, as well as ESL and English language literacy. The Boces
Geneseo Migrant Center provides evening literacy training in the migrant camps,
combined with child care and social and health services. (Contact Bob Lynch,
Boces Geneseo Migrant Center; telephone 800/245-5681.)
Migrant 402, Jobs Training Partnership Act (JTPA), and Department of Labor
programs provide vocational ESL and job training. These all-day programs may
include stipends for the participants.
Drawbacks to adult education programs include age limitations (some programs
do not serve youth under 16) and the part-time nature of the programs. Many
young students need the help of a structured school day, as well as
extracurricular and social activities, to motivate them.
Migrant advocates. In California, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Georgia, and Florida,
migrant advocates work closely with the student and family. An advocate may be
credentialed or paraprofessional, or even a student or community volunteer. The
advocate's job is to serve as liaison, monitor student progress and attendance,
serve as a role model, and assist families with support services. (Contact Terry
Porter, Oceanside [CA] Migrant Education; telephone 619/967-1322, ext. 513.)
School climate and cultural
respect. An inviting school atmosphere will reduce the initial culture shock of
the unschooled student. Maps and well-marked directions using color coding,
labels, and symbols help improve access. Bilingual staff, student ambassadors,
and cultural consideration help new students feel included and respected at the
school. Most students drop out due to their feelings about school, not because
of grades or failures (Johnson, Levy, Morales, Morse, & Prokopp, 1986).
Scheduling. Two essential issues should guide scheduling: Students must be
scheduled into classes that earn credit and classes that teach concepts and
skills needed for graduation. Time is a crucial factor in scheduling migrant
youth. Fewer than two percent of migrant students graduate after the age of 19
Language instruction. The priority for an unschooled youth is literacy and
language instruction. Teaching literacy in the first language is a strategy that
can have immediate payoff. Literacy will immediately empower them to continue
their own learning. Efforts to learn ESL and English literacy without the
support of first-language literacy can be discouraging. All ESL classes should
include a content-area focus, offer credit, and have clear exit criteria
First-language maintenance has a practical economic benefit to youth and is
important to their emotional health. When parents cannot communicate their
values and concerns to their children in their own language, they lose the
ability to parent effectively. Youth then begin to operate without societal
direction, which can lead to involvement in gangs and other delinquent behavior
Teachers need staff development to
learn effective educational strategies. To help unschooled youth, teachers
should be trained in the following strategies:
* Provide activities that appeal to all modes of learning (art, music,
verbal, mathematical, logic, inter/intrapersonal skills, physical). Even before
they write, students can listen to tapes and look at magazines, make drawings of
their experiences, and practice handwriting (Lazear, 1992).
* Have students work in cooperative learning groups providing opportunities
to interact successfully with their peers (Kagan, 1992).
* Use constructivist strategies to develop thinking skills and the ability to
access information. Constructivist learning techniques work well for nonschooled
learners because the approach resembles their own experience of learning from
life (Hasegawa, 1996).
* Teachers should draw upon students' previous learning and life experiences.
In the Language Experience Approach, used successfully in Oregon and California,
a teacher/tutor records the student's experience, then teaches literacy from
that text (Hanson-Krening, 1982).
Unschooled youth are still unserved in most school
systems. Many are never identified and never come to school. A few lucky ones
receive some of the services and models reviewed here.
If unschooled migrant youth receive appropriate assistance, they can respond
positively with dramatic progress. Although these students have special needs,
they also bring special rewards by helping all students increase their
understanding of the world beyond their own community. Schools that successfully
serve unschooled youth have well-trained staff; nurture flexible, multicultural
environments; and provide access to additional services and resources for
students and families.
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Lecture). California State University, Monterey Bay.
Johnson, F., Levy, R., Morales, J., Morse, S., & Prokopp, M. (1986).
Migrant students at the secondary level: Issues and opportunities for change.
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Prewitt Diaz, J. O., Trotter, R. T., II, & Rivera, V. A., Jr. (1989).
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