By Jessica Jones and Kaycia Sailsman
Josselin Valladares, 14, has lived in the Hudson Valley since March 2014. Her journey from Honduras to New York followed that which her parents, Glenia Gomez and Victor Valladares, made in June 2012. Valladares’ parents now both pack apples at Hurds Farm in Modena. No one in the family spoke English when they arrived in the US, and they are still in the process of learning the language.
Thousands of migrant families such as the Valladares’ seasonally work at farms throughout the Hudson Valley harvesting apples, corn, peaches, sweet potatoes, cherries, and other “dirt crops.” Dairy and poultry farms also hire migrant workers. While her parents work in the fields, Valladares attends Highland Central High School as a freshman and her brother Ian, 3, is a part of the Agri-Business Child Development program.
In attempt to help smooth the transition into American academia, the New York State Education Department funds the Mid-Hudson Migrant Education Tutorial and Support Services (METS) program that is aimed at helping eligible migrant youth such as Valladares graduate from high school.
“It was horrible, I needed friends,” said Valladares of her first experiences at school in September 2014, when she had a limited English vocabulary.
Gomez found out about the program after a METS recruiter came to her work and began asking questions about whether or not she had children.
Merida “Mimi” Rotela, Parent Involvement Liaison for METS, is directly involved with helping the students and providing them with the support needed to succeed. Rotela registers them in school, meets with their tutors, and interacts with their families to provide both educational and personal counsel.
“What makes this job really hard is the short amount of time that we have to help some of the students,” said Rotela. METS only services students up to 22 years old.
METS has nine programs based in Sullivan, Ulster, Dutchess and Orange counties. Each student that comes through the program has an assessment done and is assigned a tutor that stays with them throughout their school term.
“The help that the migrant program offered me was good, because the transition from one country to another is not easy. I have no words to express my gratitude toward the program,” said Gomez. “The tutor has helped my daughter lately and she has taken giant steps.”