The migrant's life is hard, crooned songster Woody Guthrie 30 years ago. Recently children from the Migrant Education Center in Geneseo, N.Y., repeated the refrain to federal legislators with an added note: It's hard, they said, but with education it's not hopeless.
The youths, 50 in all, came to Washington from the potato fields of upstate New York to meet with congressional and Health Education and Welfare representatives to discuss the problems of migrant youth, tour the capital and learn about career oponions in the government.
They told the legislators that the lack of a national credit transfer system contributed to the 90 per cent high school drop out rate among migrant youth. And the need to supplement a substandard family income sometimes kept them from going to school at all.
Vidal Rivera Jr., director of HEW's migrant education program, said the agency is servicing more than half a million school age children in 47 states including Puerto Rico. However, when the options is between the long range fruits of education and that night's supper, "Our problem is trying to sell an abstract to a family who lives in a very real world," he said.
The education program disseminates services in a variety of ways, said Rivera. Twelve states have comprehensive education centers in addition to regional education compenents throughout the state. Other states have education components clustered within a county or a region. The department of education of the state applies for funding under HEW's Title I Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1967.
Approved programms provide academic and vocational training, tutorial services, preschool development, language development, and harvests across the country.
Participant is not mandatory and the only requirement is that one be a migrant youth, he said. Services are offered year round and geared to the lifestyle of the migrant. The multi-purpose awareness trip to Washington was arranged by Dr. Gloria Mattera, director of the Geneseo Migrant Center in New York.
Mattera's all purpose center has offered career counseling , campsite tutors, dental services - "90 per cent of the (center's) kids had never seen a dentist," she said - and child development services for infants that would otherwise by lying out in the fields with their mothers.
She aided the youths in arranging bake sales, arts and crafts sales and raffles to raise money for the trip.
One raffle prize was a football autographed by players recently inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
"I did everything but sell my soul and we're still $1,100 short," laughed Mattera. Still she said she was determined they would make the trip. "Many of these kids have been through Washington but they've never been to Washington."
As the youngsters, aged 8 to 17, toured the capital they talked of their life with humour, anger, even affection, but never sorrow."
Their lives, domionated by a rigid work ethic, do not allow anything resembling self-pity or charity.
"Them people who can work don't need to be on welfare," insisted Rachel May Williams, 16. And you know young people can work," said the young girl who has labored in the fields for very small wages since childhood.
"Work is work either way," surmised Charles McNeal, also 16.
What the young people don't like is receiving less than what they work for. "I'd like for them to make a way for us to get credit. When we go up the road and come back to our regular school they say you don't have the right to get credit (from other schools)," fumed Priscilla Scipp, 15. "They don't take pity on you. If I didn't want to go to college there wouldn't be no use in me going to school."
Kenneth Bradley, 16, lamented about the cut in potato prices: "You get 7 cents a bucket for potatoes and 30 cents a bucket for tomatoes using the same (25 pound) size bucket," he wailed. "That 7 cents is hurting my heart, and my knees. You be on your knees all day long."
"Sometimes we make good and sometimes we make bad," mused 12-year-old Stanley Collins. However Collins' philosophy is hard work can solve anything.
"I want to be in the FBI," he grinned. "If I keep on working hard I'll get it, if I work for it."
Janet Lee Kelly, 13, wants to leave the fields for the theater. Anna Howard dreams of becoming a stewardess because "I like to ride on airplanes." And Charlene Rankin, 16, has decided on a college education.
"I never did think about college until I came to the Migrant Education Center," she said. "They talked to me and told me not to quit (high school). I finally got it in my head to finish."
In 1977 4,792 migrant youths graduated from high schools in the United States; the year before there were 1,460, said Rivera. Some 503,985 youths are receiving tutorial, career and child development services, and other educational benefits now, he said.
"They tell you they don't want any special provisions. They want to get a high school diploma just like other kids," said Rivera.
However education programs designed for a static population don't adequately serve the needs of the mobile migrant culture, he said.
"This trip has been a good learning experience," said Jerome Barnes, relating all the new careers he had learned about. "My mother's saving her money for me to go to college. She wants me to take up mechanicing.
He paused, adding, "I do a lot of mechanicing around the camp."