Just in case some of you may have thought I’d changed the focus of my research to farming and agriculture whilst in North Carolina, I shall elaborate. The delivery of this program illustrates the diverse work Head Start does in the reflecting the needs of the communities they serve. The program has responded to the migrant or farm workers patterns based on seasonal crop harvests gathering Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries, Strawberries, Tobacco and cucumbers. Families generally travel up from Mexico through Florida heading North. Whilst they are working the children are given free safe, nurturing and enriching learning environments at the local centre. The same centre based method is used to link the parents with their children’s social and emotional development. Universal services include health care to housing. Not unlike the pre-industrial revolution in the UK, workers would traditionally harvest crops with their children nearby in the fields exposing them to obvious dangers of weather elements, pesticides and lack of correct physical and mental stimulation. Since 1968 Head start has supported this travelling subculture who are an important socio economic asset to the country.
A child’s day begins at 5.30am where the bus collects the furtherest child first and carries them on a hours journey to the city of Angiers, where the center is based. (I am never going to moan about getting up early for work again) Bus monitors supervise and travel with the children at the beginning and end of the day last bus leaving at 4pm. the children are aged between 0-5 years old. Parents then make there own way to work, often car sharing, usually for an hour. The field is about another 30 minutes drive from the field.
I get the feeling all of us are having a trip out, as I have my guide Khari with me, Jennifer; centre director, Arvelis; director at the Telamon administration agency, Rosemarie, Martha family support worker and Brenda; centre aid who used to work on the field where her husband Nicolas is Crew Leader. We park up on the edge of the site and step out onto the thick dusty ploughed field. The truck is parked halfway down the field and in the distance are a cluster of 15-20 migrant workers, 3 of which are mothers, there are about the same amount higher up the field. We all move towards them taking care to walk within the narrow troughs of the ribbed ground. Sounds of salsa music get louder as we get closer. There small deposits of sweet potatoes every couple of feet left behind for ‘chitting’ for next years crop. The workers are all interested in the new audience but also mindful they have work to do. They continue to work whilst stopping to pose for me with heavy buckets of sweet potatoes filled over the top of the rim of the blue buckets perched upon their shoulder. They get paid 50c a bucket and each time they have their bucket emptied by a man on the truck who empties the buckets and hands it back to them with a small orange ticket. The worker keeps tight hold of all the tickets and will collect up to 200 in the day, making on average $100 per day.
I extend my hand to Nicholas to introduce myself, but he is reluctant to shake mine because he says it’s dusty, but I say it doesn’t matter! I want to get a better look and predicting my thoughts he allows me to venture up on top of the truck. I lift myself up onto the landing deck by climbing on the tyre. I meet the man responsible for issuing the tickets, he tells me the music is Mexican.
Nicholas tells me that there are less workers this year. Word travels back to Mexico that adverse weather have affected the crops, therefore less workers arrive. I wonder how the government shut down will effect the workers? With an uncertain projection of funds, planning for the future is going to be challenging. There are also ‘settlers’ who were once travelling migrants and now decided to stay in the area. These workers are not eligible for the head start support, as they need to fit into travelling criteria.
I am interested in how the children are tracked and followed as they move up through the country. They say the data base in which they input the child’s developmental progress, needs etc is accessed and shared by other headstart centres in the country that the children are referred to. I wondered what the potential the children had to thrive as they move into Elementary, Junior High and High School. They say that they look out for the names of past children through the schools results printed online, and recognise some who have excelled and feel proud for them. That said, most of the children grow up and work in construction or like their families in the fields.
The nursery is really fantastic offering a bilingual teaching day Spanish in the morning and English in the afternoon. The children are happy, confident as they play within a small world environment; a mini house made from wood with stairs and rooms! Space is provided for parents who come to visit the workers, access to the internet and photocopying is available.
Khari calls to me we are on a tight schedule so click away and pocket a nice Sweet Potato.
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