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— Clara Smith is the new director of the Migrant Education Program at the Decatur School District.

The federally funded program is designed to reach children whose families move from place to place working in agricultural, timber and food-processing industries.

Moving from school to school and often from state to state is a challenge for kids. They have to find new friends and they often begin to fall behind academically, Smith explained.

“It’s a shock to kids,” she said.

Smith helps identify children that are eligible for the program. Once students are enrolled, Smith does everything she can to help them adjust and catch up to their peers academically.

She tutors the students one-on-one and helps them in the classroom. She also works with parents, teaching them how to help their kids succeed in school.

Resources such as backpacks and school supplies are available to qualifying students, along with medical checkups, eyeglasses and some dental services.

Smith is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English, so she can help translate at parent-teacher conferences if parents don’t speak English. It also helps her when she’s tutoring students who may be learning English. Some of the students have recently immigrated to the United States.

“I can’t picture myself suddenly in a Chinese classroom. I can feel their pain,” Smith said.

The Migrant Education Program isn’t just for Hispanics though, Smith said, but for anyone whose family moves from place to place. Students ages 3 to 21 can be in the program for up to three years.

Smith has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a passion for learning and helping children learn. She said she has already attended several seminars learning techniques to help her tutor.

“Sometimes I want to live right here to see the beauty of the knowledge ... I’m doing what I love to do,” she said.

School News, Pages 9 on 11/18/2009

Print Headline: Smith is new director for Migrant Education Program

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