OWATONNA — Martina Wagner, the district’s coordinator of educational equity, detailed changes, improvements, and growth in Owatonna’s migrant education program during a school board work session Monday night.
Due to both structural enhancements within the program, as well as the fact that Waseca dropped its offering this year, bringing Owatonna to take those students into its program, Owatonna ended the summer with 76 students enrolled, said Wagner, who coordinates this program. Last summer, the six-week course concluded with 29 students.
The migrant education program is “one of the best-kept secrets” in the district, she said. In addition to education, students also receive other services, such as physicals or dental assistance, and families are connected to resources, as “(we try to) make sure all of the right people have all the right information.”
Services can — and do — continue into the school year, and the overarching goal is to minimize disruptions to education, she said. Wagner and her team attempt to ensure these students fully benefit from the same opportunities as any other student.
It’s essential to diminish disruptions for this group so they can receive necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in life, said school board member Nikki Gieseke. “My grandparents were migrant workers,” so “this hits personally for me.”
To be eligible for migrant education programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, students have to be part of families who move across state lines — many in this area arrive from Texas and Mexico for seasonal work — and make those transitions in order to seek qualifying work, Wagner said. Students remain eligible for migrant education services until age 21.
This summer’s theme was E-STEAM (environment, science, technology, engineering, art, and math), so students planted gardens at McKinley Elementary, she said. They went on several field trips, including meeting with engineers at U.S. Bank Stadium, and benefited from weekly onsite enrichment, ranging from University of Minnesota Extension cooking classes, to coding, to robotics, to forensics.
Owatonna’s migrant education program also has a pair of recruiters who venture into the field to find families and students, as many of the individuals eligible for this program go unidentified, she said. The migrant education program now has a Facebook page to connect with families, as well.
Wagner and other staffers even visit migrant camps — a “pretty powerful” experience — to teach and assist students and families, she said. This program clearly “goes beyond the four walls of McKinley.”
The migrant education program is an “unsung program that brings stability and consistency to these young people,” said Lori Weisenburger, vice chair of the school board. “It’s inspiring.”
To have students in grades six-eight journal and then showcase their personal narratives — including information about their families, their travels, and their goals for the future — to students in kindergarten-fifth grade was “one of the most profound projects” this summer, Wagner said. “They taught all of us more than we could ever teach them.”
New this year, the migrant education program offered students in grades 9-12 an opportunity for credit recovery, or to take additional credits, she said. “I’m pretty proud of this piece,” as laptops were provided for students during their enrollment, they were able to visit a pair of colleges, and they refined their study skills.
Students in the migrant education program even created an end-of-summer slideshow, which Wagner played for the board Monday.
Staff members conduct exit surveys each summer to learn where they can improve, Wagner said. Owatonna families tend to return each summer to the migrant education program, and these students are definitely “value-added” to the district.
The migrant education program is yet another example of the school district striving for equity and to foster a safe and caring community, said Jeff Elstad, Owatonna’s superintendent. Students “feel part of something,” and staff members “provide each student exactly what (he or she) needs to be successful.”