The Impact of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start on My Life

By Deida Cortez

Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs provide care and support for farmworker families to help meet their unique needs. Every farmworker family should have access to these programs, but they are drastically underfunded and, as a result, only reach a small portion of eligible families.

As a child, I didn’t fully comprehend what it meant to be in a migrant family that worked on farms in Washington state. If I wanted to spend time with my dad, I had to go on “fun road trips” with him that would start very early in the morning. I would watch the sunrise, listen to the Spanish radio station, sleep in the bed of the semi, and snack on free fruit from the fields. I loved these trips and couldn’t understand who wouldn’t want to be a migrant child.

Washington state is one of the largest producers of cherries, apples, and hops in the country, and my family has worked to produce them all. The Fuji apple and Bing cherries, among other produce, have been essential to our success. Summer is my favorite season because that’s cherry season, but summer is also an extremely physically and mentally challenging time for farmworkers. The dry heat means constant wildfires, and the temperatures can reach 120 degrees. Workers are expected to give their best efforts in this environment, even though they are overworked and underpaid. No one should be exposed to these conditions, especially not a child.

Now, I understand that my dad did not take me on his trips by choice. I went with him because we didn’t have child care. My mom worked at a salon, so I could either stay with her at work or go on these road trips. We weren’t the only family that had to make these choices; most migrant families have no option but to take their children to work with them. However, when I was four years old, my family discovered Inspire Development Centers (IDC), a Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program dedicated to supporting migrant families by providing resources and child care. MSHS programs help meet the needs of migrant families who often lack guidance and assistance by, among other things, offering stable and safe child care for children whose parents work in the fields. These programs are especially beneficial for first-generation children who are often left to navigate the complex educational system alone. IDC is one of the many MSHS programs that go above and beyond to accommodate farm-working families by adjusting the child care services outside of the hours they usually operate and providing other support to meet the needs of families.

IDC became a cornerstone for my education, especially since I didn’t speak English when I started school. Initially, the language barrier did not affect me much; children don’t need to speak the same language to play together, and school was just a place for me to play. I was more focused on making friends than on my pre-K curriculum. However, my bilingual teachers highlighted the significance of education. Their examples left a lasting impact, motivating me to continue my studies.

IDC has sponsored me throughout my educational journey, funding my study-abroad program and giving me the opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C.

Everyone should have access to the same child care and support that my family received from IDC. For that to be a reality, Congress must allocate additional funding for the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs to increase access and ensure ongoing resources and unwavering support for migrant families like mine. MSHS programs have both short- and long-term positive impacts on families, and additional resources could help provide those benefits to many more qualifying families.