MCC art teacher Rachel Brock brings a sense of social justice to migrant students.

November 23, 2020

MCC art teacher Rachel Brock brings a sense of social justice to migrant students.

Spartan News is a presentation of Mason County Central Schools in partnership with Mason County Press.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

SCOTTVILLE – Summertime is traditionally a time for school-aged kids to have some time off, especially here in northwest Michigan. But, for children in migrant families, it’s typically a time when they have to attend classes, which isn’t always fun. 

“Often kids in the migrant programs feel like they are being punished because they have to attend school in the summer,” said Angela Taylor, director of Compensatory Education and Migrant Education at Mason County Central Schools. “We are constantly trying to create ways to make learning fun for these kids and also to let them know that they are just as deserving of an education as anyone else.” 

MCC K-12 art teacher Rachel Brock plays an important role in teaching the migrant students about taking pride in their culture and embracing their talents. Brock said she teaches the children to have pride in their heritage, to appreciate their culture and to build their bilingual abilities into proficiencies. 

“We are a diverse world, we must embrace it,” Brock said. “It is imperative that we teach our students about social justice and bring our school programs together to best educate not only in academics, but also in social matters such as diversity. Rather than molding our students to all be the same, students will benefit by accepting one another for the qualities each of us have as individuals. Our migrant students have the benefit of coming from multilingual homes. To look at that as an asset rather than a demise will allow those students to see themselves as having a gift of knowing two languages.”

Brock said she got into working with the program because she had a language arts minor and she believed she could lend a hand with the students and a lot of the projects they were working on.

“Language arts is my minor and it fit well for me to join the program and be able to work with our English as second language students to improve their reading and writing skills,” Brock said. “I have always worked cross-curriculum, so it was natural for me to introduce the arts into our LA lessons. Because they were so well received and beneficial to the students, we were able to bring the arts into the program as its own section.”

Taylor said Brock came to her a few years ago with a plan to incorporate the arts into the migrant program. 

“Summer programming is offered to our migrant families to make up some of the time they have missed due to the interruptions in their schooling as they travel,” Taylor said. “However, this is sometimes a hard concept for our migrant children to understand why their friends do not have to go to school in the summer. We have worked very hard as a local program and at the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) level to recognize these feelings and to support the needs for academic achievement and catch up, but to also have the ability to incorporate other opportunities outside of English/language arts (ELA), math and other core areas. One of these opportunities is the arts.

“So, with a budget line item and a ton of creativity Rachel’s idea came to be. Not only are her students learning and increasing their academic language, vocabulary, and comprehension they are doing it while having fun celebrating their migratory lifestyle and family.”

Brock said exploring her student’s backgrounds and cultures really affects what she does with each of them within the arts program. She values their experiences and wants to explore them more and in return she feels that this helps build more confident students, who are proud of their own culture, as well as the cultures of others.

“The families cherish the works of art that their children do,’ Brock said. 

Brock presented at a Michigan Art Education Association (MAEA) conference. Her program was titled, “Integrating Social Justice in ESL Learning for Migrant Students.” In the presentation she discussed why including these student’s backgrounds and cultures is so important to their personal growth throughout their education.

“Art education brings communities together and offers a language that transcends race, language, age, and ability,” Brock said. “The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution, that there are many ways to see and interpret the world, and that the limits of language do not define the limits of our cognition. Teaching anything through music/lyrics helps kids remember (think of the ABC song); music helps children in math, language development, and to manage their emotions. The arts help children find other ways of expressing their thoughts and feelings beyond the traditional.

“As I was creating my slide presentation, I gathered all of my photos from the years in the program and included some from my first year. I shared these photos with several of the students shown in those photos and their first response was ‘I still have that!’ or ‘That is still hanging in my house.’ They were so excited to see their work being shown in a presentation. One fourth grader was even showing her friends in class the image that I shared with her, beaming with pride.”

Taylor said MCC has a long history of educating a diverse population in the community. It not only operates the county’s migrant education program, it also operates Victory Early Childhood Center, Mason-Lake Adult Education, Meals on Wheels for senior citizens, is the fiduciary for the Scottville Area Senior Center, and of course it operates a K-12 program that dates back 160 years.  

“Mason County Central Schools has a long history of providing support services beyond just academics to our migrant students and families within our surrounding areas both during the regular school year and during the summer,” Taylor said. “It is important that people understand what it means to be a migrant; a person who moves from one place to another, especially in order to find work (agricultural).

“Being a migrant also means that their school aged children have interruptions in their schooling due to these moves which coordinates with the growing/harvesting seasons from state to state, and not necessarily school calendars,” Taylor added. “It could also mean that they have a child under the age of 22 that needs help in completing a GED as they had gotten off track on the traditional high school diploma route. That is where Mason County Central comes in to support our families in helping them get their basics needs met and support the goals of all migrant children receiving a solid education and a high school diploma/GED.”

While relocating from school to school, not only education opportunities can become more difficult, but exposure to the arts can also be lacking because the students don’t stay in one place for long or the schools do not have a lot of opportunity for the students outside of a general education.

“This is where the migrant program is so beneficial to our families,” Brock said. “The program is what I would call ‘full service,’ where we are in constant contact with our families to make certain that the parents are fully involved.”

The goal of the migrant program is to ensure that all migrant students reach challenging academic standards and graduate with a high school diploma (or complete a GED) that prepares them for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment.”

“As educators – and specifically art educators – we aspire to go beyond the academic status of our students,” Brock said. “We are challenged to bring more to their educational experience by mentoring, teaching and facilitating the ability to express thoughts and feelings via their works of art.

“We all have our passions, and the children of migrant families is one of mine,” Brock said. “Art history is another and to share with these students that their heritage brings beauty to life through the art of their culture, their history, that is when it all makes sense.”

Some of the projects Brock completed with her students were: Frida Kahlo inspired self portraits, Diego Rivera inspired paintings, textiles, color dyes, pottery, and cultural ties to Mexican art. Brock and Taylor said they are excited for what future years will bring for the migrant program. They continue to work with families throughout the year to make sure each student is on track with his/her education and to continue to build those important relationships they have developed over the years. 

For more information about the migrant program at MCC, contact Angela Taylor at 231-843-2410.

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