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Vol. 7, No. 2: October 19, 2000

UW System to Provide Educational and Career Support to Migrant Workers and their Families

by Jennifer Smith, TTT Editor

"Reach Out," a new UW System program that will receive major funding from the U.S. Department of Education, aims to raise the educational achievement and academic and employment horizons of migrant farm workers and their families. As the recipient of a four-year, million-dollar grant through the federal Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP) program, "Reach Out" will be implemented through the cooperation of UW System Administration, the La Crosse, Oshkosh, and Stevens Point campuses, UW-Extension, the UW Colleges, and United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS). Each year, "Reach Out" will benefit more than 2,000 families online and up to 100 more participants through summer programs.

Salvador Carranza, Senior Institutional Planner in the UWS Office of Multicultural Affairs, emphasizes that the program will benefit not only adult migrant workers, but also their high-school-age children. As he explained, these teens often fall behind their grade level due to their parents' work cycles. Students are frequently uprooted from their schools before the year is over in the spring, and they begin late in the fall. "Reach Out" will provide these high schoolers with a combination of online educational activities and a face-to-face experience in the summer, when they will attend an academic day camp at a UW campus. The campus experience will personalize the program for students and prepare them for online studies that will be conducted via NovaNET, an online education provider. The on-campus academic programs will focus on reinforcing skills in fundamental areas like English and math. UW faculty members and college students will teach these two- to four-week programs. Some campuses will have special learning activities; for example, UW-La Crosse has a Mississippi River summer program in which students gain more direct experiences in biology and environmental education.

Adults will be able to take advantage of online career exploration activities that may be accessed year-round. For some, this may be a stepping stone to online coursework. Adults will also be able to share the experience of learning online with their children. To build computer skills and make the transition to learning online easier, families will be paired with faculty mentors from the UW Colleges. These mentors will serve as liaisons, helping with problems and providing support and encouragement to program participants. Mentors can be reached online year-round.

To access the distance-learning components of "Reach Out," migrant farm workers and their families will have access to computer labs both at the campsites where they reside while in Wisconsin and at their worksites. The computers will be provided by United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS), an organization with which the UW System has worked closely in order to bring this program to fruition. UMOS will also provide technical advice and staff support services. Program participants will also have access to computer labs during the part of the year they do not reside in Wisconsin. It is the hope of the workers' employers and the Midwest Food Processors Association, another partner in the program, that with improved job skills, migrant workers will be able to move into more skilled, permanent positions with their companies.

Looking ahead, Sal Carranza commented that he hopes "Reach Out" can be expanded to provide educational resources for Wisconsin's Native American reservations and Hmong communities. In fact, he is already discussing these possibilities with the Wisconsin Indian Education Association. The first few years of "Reach Out" for migrant workers will provide valuable information about what services participants need and how well the initiative is working. These lessons could then be transferred to other versions of the program.

Carranza credits numerous colleagues in the UW System with helping make "Reach Out" a reality. Tess Arenas, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, issued the mandate to devise programming that would benefit children of migrant workers in Wisconsin. Recently-retired UWS Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David J. Ward was quick to offer System support. Carranza credits Miguel Berry of UMOS for providing sage advice on what sort of programming would work best for migrant families. Bob Kirsling from UMOS, Al Thompson and Barbara Stewart of UW-La Crosse, Ron Strege and Wayne Sorenson of UW-Stevens Point, Muriel Hawkins and Irma Burgos of UW-Oshkosh, and Nora McGuire of UW Colleges were also instrumental.

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