Resident children of the Compact of Free Association (COFA) citizen migrants have struggled to achieve educational success in school. Their educational mandates back home are much less stringent, and they arrive in the U.S. not understanding the opportunity that a good education can provide; thus, parents and children alike give it little attention.
This lack of awareness is exacerbated with their cultural belief that a child is everyone’s child, which in terms of school attendance and success translates into the belief that once a child goes to school, they are the teacher’s responsibility – literally, it is a realm in which the parents play no part.
This belief led to very poor outcomes; e.g., about half of all COFA migrant students drop out before graduating high school, one-third are chronically absent, and truancy, tardiness, suspensions and run-ins with the law are common.
Until recently, educators and service providers blamed the families for their children’s failure in schools.
Christina Simmons, an on-site service provider who worked closely with this population in a WIC program began to understand the root cause of failure in school and decided instead to focus on the COFA migrant’s strengths, assets, and resourcefulness by applying the Positive Deviance (PD) approach; that is, identifying the parents and guardians who children are succeeding in school, identifying the strategies that lead to success, and then having them share their stories with the others in a peer-to-peer collaborate and fun environment.
The program is carried on through Parents and Children Together (PACT), who offer the 10-week course in both Chuukese and Marshallese. The course work ends in a celebration that includs dancing, ethnic food, and the sharing of testimonies of what the parents and guardians learned and would apply in the future. It may seem simple to Westerners but unless you’re raised with cultural norms around education, you don’t know it’s important to read the paperwork that the school sends home, or know how important it is that your child gets up early enough to get to school on time, or know that you can approach and talk with the “expert” teacher. The list of what was unknown is long, but through this program families that are now deeply engaged in, and contributing to, their children’s academic success.