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Blueberry Harvest School: Three Weeks of Fun!

This year Mano en Mano was fortunate to have been contracted by the Maine Migrant Education Program to run the annual Blueberry Harvest School, held in Harrington, ME (Washington County) to serve the children from 3 to 13 years old of migrant blueberry rakers and workers. The school is just concluding three weeks of serious fun. This year’s peak day saw over 90 children come to learn and play and nearly 120 children in all were enrolled over the three weeks. The children were brought by bus each morning from many camps scattered around the blueberry barrens near Columbia, Deblois and other towns. A majority of the children were Mik’mac from Nova Scotia, Canada and a few were Passamaquoddy from Indian Township and other locations in Maine. There were also children of Hispanic and Haitian migrants, many coming from Mississippi and Florida to work during the blueberry season.

To serve the First Nation children, the school was very fortunate this year to have six staff members from First Nations, 5 of whom were Mi’kmac from Canada, and one Passamaquoddy from Maine. In addition, a number of support staff and classroom aides were bilingual in English and Spanish. Many of the staff were returning from previous Harvest Schools and were able to share their knowledge and expertise with the many new staff.

Each of the three weeks of school, which began on August 5, focused on a theme that would teach the children about some aspect of Maine. Field trips, visitors, learning activities and the “specials”—art, culture and physical education—all emphasized and enriched the week’s theme.

During the first week, students learned about “Maritime Magic”—the life of the sea. One class researched the length of a whale, then laid out classmates and teachers on the grass outside the school to show how many people equaled a whale. The whole school was treated to a touch tank full of sea creatures, brought by representative of the Downeast Institute on Beals Island. Students and teachers had the excitement of holding live sea stars, sea urchins, a scallop, a hermit crab and other saltwater inhabitants.

The second week’s focus was Ecosystems and habitats. Nearly all children were able to visit one of two farms in the area and see how a variety of animals live and are cared for as well as the agriculture on the farm. The younger classes went for an extended hike at Petit Manan Wildlife Reserve in Steuben to see habitats. Several classes created murals showing various habitats of animals they had learned about and had visitors who brought films and artifacts to handle and led activities to help students understand more about habitat challenges of whales and salmon, among other creatures.

Sustainable food systems was the topic of the third week, which typically sees a precipitous drop in enrollment as families begin to return home or move on to other agricultural work. For this topic students learned about favorite foods and how they arrive at stores. Again animals were part of the week, with a visit from Henrietta the hen and two lop-eared rabbits—all of whom came right to the classrooms so children could handle them extensively.

The children at the school were exceptionally fortunate to have an experienced art teacher providing art classes to each group each day. They learned about art techniques and materials and created pictures, sculptures, murals and much more under their teacher’s guidance. The teacher often had children reflect on the week’s theme and how it could be represented using the art techniques they were learning about.

Classroom samples.

A daily culture class was part of each group’s schedule as well. Taught by one of the First Nation staff persons, the culture classes let the children experience Mi’kmac culture, music and art, as well as culture from other peoples.

Physical education was another daily session for each class and the “coach” kept the children moving and entertained by a wide variety of activities, often incorporating the week’s theme into games and contents, with the children being fish or other creatures as they played.

In addition to the scheduled classes, a lot of attention was paid to making sure the children had typical summer fun, so that school was often much more like summer camp than school. Each week on Friday, the children 6 and older went to the swimming pool at the University of Maine-Machias. A couple of extra swimming and beach-exploring trips were thrown in too. The littlest ones had wading pools at the school for their swimming fun. Students also had lots of outdoor time, and those 9 and older had a special treat learning about boats, sailors’ knots and sailing with volunteers at the Petit Manan Yacht Club, on Ray’s Point in Milbridge.

And what school would be complete without a parents’ night? Parents were invited on Thursday, August 15, to visit classrooms, meet teachers, see art projects and eat a wonderful feast of roast pig, pizza, several salads, blueberry crisp and cake. While families and staff dined, a slide show featuring many of the children in the camp’s activities was playing.

On school days, all children were provided with two full meals and a snack, making sure young bodies were well-fueled for all their fun.

From the point of view of staff and teachers, Blueberry Harvest School is a delightful but very demanding experience, since the population of children changes constantly as families come and go and children decide to come or not come to school. The teamwork of the staff combined with excellent leadership assured that all went off as intended despite challenges. The best vote of approval is that the children kept coming back and the parents reported that the children were happy.

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