Harvest of Courage: A celebration of the resilience of Tennessee’s migratory children and youth
By Alyssa Rizo, Education Advisor, Tennessee Migrant Education Program
Each year in Tennessee, harvest season falls upon us. For some it represents more of our favorite fruits and veggies; for many migratory agricultural workers it means temporarily relocating in order to follow the harvest. Migratory farm workers and their families follow the harvest to states such as Tennessee, Florida and Georgia to work in fields cultivating and picking crops. As a result, harvest season directly impacts the migrant families that contribute to harvesting the food we eat.
The Tennessee Migrant Education Program (MEP), operated by Conexion Americas through a grant contract with the state of Tennessee, specifically aims to address the unique educational needs of migrant students, the children of agricultural workers. The objective of the program is for migrant students to access the same high quality academic opportunities as all other students through providing supplemental instructional and support services to students. Migratory children, who move with their families every three years or more, face unique challenges to their education that include less educational continuity and instructional time than other students might receive, challenges related to school engagement, and limited access to services. This harvest season the Tennessee Migrant Education program shares how even in the face of these unique challenges, migratory students have demonstrated determination and courage.
The Tennessee Migrant Education Program holds an annual Harvest Festival, an educational project that uses art and play for students to explore and strengthen their social-emotional skills. For this year’s Harvest Festival, educators asked migratory children, ages 4-18, to share advice with their peers on what they could do to have courage when things are hard or they are scared. As a result, over 100 pieces of heart felt advice and drawings were submitted by migratory students living in 20 counties across the state of Tennessee. The TN MEP seeks to elevate the voices of Tennessee’s migrant students by sharing their words of wisdom through a panel discussion and online gallery, the Harvest of Courage. The Harvest of Courage not only celebrates the end of peak harvest season but also embraces migrant students’ stories of strength and resilience.
The Harvest Festival lesson plan, sought to empower and encourage students to express their visions of courage. Students read the book “I am Human” by author Susan Verde and then reflected on the characteristics that made them human, including how they manage difficult moments in their lives. Although the pandemic meant that the TN MEP educators worked with migratory students virtually, students still felt comfortable sharing their recognition of their inner strength.
Educators opened a safe space for students to share difficult moments they had experienced such as what it was like learning a new language or moving to a new place and making new friends. The safe space empowered and encouraged students to share their coping mechanisms in the face of challenges and to express their visions of courage.
What advice did migratory students share with us around what to do when things are hard or you are scared? One of the pieces of advice most shared by migratory students is to play. Children expressed how playing with friends, toys or exercise like biking and running outside were ways to manage difficult moments. The second most shared piece of advice of migratory students was encouraging others to dig deep into their inner strength- with affirmations like “be brave”, “keep going”, “tell yourself you can do it”, “never stop trying.” Students who participated in the project also recommended that we use reflection and relaxation techniques to face difficult moments by sharing advice such as: “relax and try to fix the problem”, “stop and think about what to do”, “meditate” and “think happy stuff.” Finally, students recommended speaking to parents, spending time in nature, talking with friends and spending time with pets as other great coping mechanisms when they are scared, or things are hard.
While reflecting on the impact of the Harvest Festival on participants, Carmine Cuda, one of the TN MEP educators, observed that, “It was amazing to see the students understand themselves”. She was impacted by how the project empowered students by acknowledging their strength. Students not only felt welcomed to honor their inner strength, but through the project also shared their welcoming and supportive advice with others.
This harvest season we celebrate the resilience of Tennessee’s migratory students. Through the exhibition Harvest of Courage students share their advice about how to overcome difficult situations and as a result we can begin to see through their lens of perspective. As adults we are put in the unique and privileged position to teach children how to love themselves. It is equally as privileged a position to have the opportunity to listen to their advice. We then become the students and encourage them to take the stage and teach us. As one student advised, “when things are hard or you are scared, turn on the light”. We hope that to those who read these students’ visions of courage you feel that same comfort of turning on a light on these dark autumn evenings and you join us in amplifying their voices, learning with us from their harvest of courage.