During the past four years, rural Fort Morgan, Colo., has seen an influx of East African refugees who are resettling there to fill jobs at a local meat processing plant.
An estimated 10 percent of the community's 16,000 residents now is made up of refugees, and the increasing migrant population has had implications for Morgan County School District Re-3. Roughly one-third of the district's 3,000 students are English-language learners. They come from 24 countries and speak 17 different dialects or languages.
Mark Rangel, coordinator of federal programs for the district, couldn't find any information on newcomer programs in rural areas, so he read up on existing urban ones and launched a Migrant Education Newcomer Academy in August for those students
"The creation of this program was based on a need to explore a supplementary program to assist our migrant, immigrant, and refugee students who are overaged and under-credited to graduate from high school," Rangel told the Rural Education blog.
This issue is one that likely resonates in communities nationwide. Rural schools are enrolling increasingly diverse student populations, and those children have unique educational needs. Nationally, 3.7 percent of rural students are English-language learners, but the percentages in states range from zero in Vermont to 18.1 in California, according to Why Rural Matters 2011-12.
The Fort Morgan academy is a half-day supplemental program focusing on intensive language development, content skill development, and social/cultural readiness.
It costs about $150,000 annually for salaries, supplies and transportation and is serving 20 of the most at-risk middle and high school students who come from nine countries. Ninety-eight percent of the program's budget comes from federal migrant funding. The program also has developed community partnerships with a nearby workforce center, universities, and even the beef processing plant.
With relatively few migrant programs in rural areas, this one seemed worth sharing, and organizers of the 2012 National Migrant Education Conference in Oregon apparently feel the same. Rangel will make a presentation there on his efforts later this month.