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Migrant education program seeks to bridge cultural gap
Students look forward to the program
Students at Gainesville City School’s summer migrant enrichment program watch and listen Friday to a teeth cleaning demonstration from Dr. Rick Gadbois at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

Children in migrant families bounce from school to school and often live in homes where English isn't spoken, making learning difficult.

But a federally funded migrant education program offers help, and during the summer works to reinforce reading and language retention with those students.

"The summer can have a negative impact on their progress because they may be home with just Spanish (spoken)," said Laura Herrington, English as a Second Language director for Gainesville City Schools. "It's almost like they take a step backward."

The program is available to those ages 3 to 21 who haven't graduated high school and who moved to the area in the last 36 months to find seasonal employment, either for themselves or because of their families, Herrington said.

Migrant workers, not all of whom are Hispanic, move to the Hall County area for many reasons, Herrington said, but most come to work in poultry processing plants or to harvest crops. When the job is over, they pack up and move elsewhere.

"One challenge is adapting to a new school, to new friends and to new teachers," said Maria Olalde, a migrant advocate for the Gainesville program. "Not all schools teach at the same level or at the same time."

The Gainesville migrant summer program typically includes between 20 and 40 students, Herrington said. This summer, Gainesville has 25 students enrolled. Some migrant students do not enroll and take Criterion-Referenced Competency Test remedial courses instead.

According to teachers, the students look forward to the summer program, whether it includes reading, writing or special lessons like Friday's on dental hygiene.

"Our mission is to help young people raise self-awareness, self-esteem and value so they can go far in life," said Dr. Rick Gadbois, a dentist with Northeast Georgia General, Restoration and Implant Dentistry in Gainesville. "I try to point out to everyone that they already have a smart brain."

Gadbois and Grace Duncan, the practice's patient hygiene coordinator, gave a presentation on oral health Friday with the hope it would be more than just a lesson on how to brush teeth, Gadbois said.

"A lot of these kids are the only English speakers in the house, and they can take some of this back to their families," Duncan said.