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migrant Estefani (L) and Aliyah (R) are pictured with their pool noodle buddies.

Summer Magic Program gives educators opportunity to work with students from migrant families

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Thanks to the passion of several Monticello educators, ISD 882 had the opportunity to put together a unique and special program this year with Summer Magic, a summer program for migrant students.

The established goal of the program was to help meet the unique educational needs of the students of migrant agricultural workers. These students and their families have high levels of mobility. Research has shown that the frequent moving can lead to gaps in instructional time and a lack of continuity in their education.

Made possible by grant funding, Monticello educators provided three weeks of full-day lessons for kids from migrant families (families that move often for work opportunities). A total of 25 students attended the program, ranging in age from 3 to 15 years old. The program was coordinated by Anna Morphew and Kara Radke, who brought on David Reeves, Ellie Michaelis, and Andrea Hogg to work as teachers. Sandra Acuna also worked as a parent liaison and paraprofessional. Fluent in Spanish, Acuna, helped communicate with families to make sure the camp was best meeting their needs.

The idea for Summer Magic came to Monticello from the Minnesota Department of Education, which, due to location, facilities, and capabilities, had eyed Monticello as a potential host of this type of program for some time. Superintendent Eric Olson jumped at the idea, bringing Morphew, Radke, Melissa Erickson, and Marie LaPlant in to discuss the possibility. The discussion led to buy-in, which led to a very tight 24-hour window to fill out the grant required to receive the funding to run the program. Led by Erickson, the group got it done. Following the successful grant application, the Migrant Summer Camp received administrative and school board approval, and Radke and Morphew took the reins to start planning.

Radke said that having the support of administration and the board was huge in getting the program off the ground.

“The kind statements that were made [at the board meeting], and the thoughts about how they viewed it … getting that support meant a lot,” said Radke. 

Radke and Morphew went all over the area to recruit students to this opportunity, bringing in kids from Monticello, Big Lake, St. Cloud, Rockville, Watkins, and more. Students originated from places such as Texas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Peru. One of the aspects of the camp that made it both challenging and rewarding was the vast difference in where students fell on the spectrum of education. There were students that had yet to learn the ABCs (in their native language or English), and there were students that were ready to do independent passion projects during the school day, with a little bit of everything in between. 

The unfamiliarity with experiences that many take for granted made for some special moments during the camp.

“We had a student who recently arrived in the United States who will be starting kindergarten in the fall. He had never been in a school setting before,” said Morphew. “We got to see him have his first experience on the swings, and his smile and laugh were infectious!”

The school day ran from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. each day. Students started the day in a large group format, done intentionally to help build a community feel from the get go. While many of the students are used to moving often, Radke said they were noticeably quick to embrace the community aspect of the program.

Radke said it wasn’t uncommon that if a student dropped a pencil, two others would drop to the ground to pick it up for them.

“They were amazing,” she said. “I’m always amazed to think about how they go into an unfamiliar area and just grow. Kids are so resilient, they do it quicker than I think adults can.”

Following the morning community time, the day included small group sessions that paired students of similar abilities, as well as several breaks for fun and physical activity to keep students stimulated. During small groups, students focused on math and literacy skills. Assessments would go on to prove that many of the students achieved great success in progressing their skills from the start of the program to the end (89 percent progressed in reading and 76 percent in math), but teachers didn’t necessarily need the assessments to tell them that.

“Watching these kids help each other develop math and literacy skills was downright powerful,” said Reeves. “ It was such a rewarding experience to witness these kids collaborating to gain skills in a country that is new to them... skills that will impact the future generations of their family.”

Michaelis noted that the opportunity to build and deepen relationships and connections with students both from inside the district and out of district was one of many highlights from the three week stretch. The Pinewood media specialist noted that the program’s ability to create a warm, welcoming environment for learning really helped students open up during the three-week run.

“One student was very shy the first few days, but by week two, he felt comfortable enough with us to start correcting my Spanish grammar,” she fondly recalled. 

Feedback from the students families was overwhelmingly positive too. Summer Magic closed with a well-attended family night, which Monticello educators used to provide families with materials to help them continue the education journey, and Radke and Morphew both said the feedback received that night and via surveys was overwhelmingly positive.

“Parents were extremely happy,” said Morphew. “The main suggestion was just to have the program run longer in the future!”

One crucial piece of making Summer Magic successful was the work of Monticello’s outstanding partners in this venture. Hoglunds provided transportation for students and was in close contact with the coordinators, as students were being added and pick up and drop off locations were changed throughout the program. Ausco donated tumblers for the students so they could have water cups during the school day, and Von Hanson’s donated food for the end of the program barbecue. Little Mountain Elementary administration and staff was also extremely supportive and flexible in serving as the host of the program, and ISD 882 benefited greatly from the Midwest Migrant Education Resource Center at Hamline University.

Monticello School District will reapply for funding this spring, and hopes to make this program an annual opportunity for local migrant families and students. 

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