Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

RCMA Wimauma Academy nurtures migrant children


Irasema Scheirer looked out at the 16 second-graders who scattered the floor of her classroom one recent afternoon, and she pointed to a picture of a porcupine fish, the kind that blows up with spikes to protect itself.

"Do you think another animal could gobble it up?" she asks. No way, they respond. Fish, she tells them, are equipped with special tools to help them survive.

In a way, that's also what the RCMA Wimauma Academy has been trying to do for its kids for the past nine years, teaching them to read, to take tests, to aspire to a life many of their parents never attained. These are the children of field workers, hardworking parents who might not read or speak English, and who don't have many other options. A third of the students migrate with their families to fields up North or out West, sometimes missing weeks of class. But they want more.

Scheirer knows this because she was one of them.

A true role model

The little girl hoed sugar beets in Minnesota. She picked cucumbers in Michigan. Even when it rained. Even when it was cold. She dreamed of one day working in an office. Or anywhere with air conditioning.

Scheirer was the same age as her students when her parents decided to migrate North every summer. She'd leave before the school year ended and come back after it began. She had to fight to get promoted to seventh grade, not because of her grades, but because of the class she missed.

But when she was in school, she worked hard — so hard that she graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in early education. Parents look at her and they see what their kids might one day accomplish.

They come into her classroom with grass stains on their pants and Scheirer knows they've been kneeling in the dirt. And they ask about their kids: How are they reading? How are they behaving? Is there anything I can do to help?

So that parents feel comfortable, she gives them a chance to speak to her with no one else around. Once a year, she visits the home of each of her students. But in this sense, she isn't unique.

At RCMA Wimauma Academy, every teacher does.

Doing the 'extra'

"What we're all about is the extra," says school director Mark Haggett. "We've mastered catering to this pocket of the population."

The school, run by the Immokalee-based Redlands Christian Migrant Association, reflects the culture of its Hispanic immigrant population. It celebrates Christmas in the style of a Mexican posada. Its major fundraiser is a soccer tournament.

It also accommodates for the tough schedules of its parents. The school runs its own buses and tailors its own routes. It stays open past sunset. And it employs a family liaison to assist with issues from transportation to immigration.

"I really live every single day with each one of these families," said the liaison, Marcela Estevez. "I know what their troubles are and what they need."

Over the summer, one family on a trip to Miami was stopped by Border Patrol agents, who deported the father. The mother decided to move with her kids back to Mexico. Estevez made sure she had a transfer document that reflected the children's grades and the material they'd learned, so they could be placed at the right level in their new school.

Last year, a kindergartener had to have surgery. The school provided the parents with transportation to and from the hospital. Staffers babysat and fed the boy's three siblings while the parents were gone.

"We try to make them feel like they are family," Estevez said. "We want them to trust in the school. For us, it's really very important that the children stay with us as long as possible. We know that we can make a difference."

How do they know?

This June, the school's FCAT score rose from a C to an A.

A home visit

It's after school. Scheirer drives onto a road that turns to dirt, where street names are spray painted onto signs. Matilde Vasquez greets her at the door.

Her double-wide trailer is tidy and smells like fruit. She leads Scheirer past a shrine set up for the Day of the Dead. They sit on a couch.

"Adrian is a brilliant kid," the teacher starts in Spanish, "and he's reading at a good level."

Vasquez is relieved. Her son had trouble in first grade. Now, his teacher says he's excelling in math. He's hyperactive, but he'll mature. His sister did last year. Vasquez attributes that change to Scheirer, too.

She sees their progress and hopes it continues, but she worries about middle school and its big class sizes. She wonders how they'd do outside the academy's nurturing bubble, but finds comfort knowing the school is raising funds to expand through eighth grade.

They'll stay as long as they can.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.


RCMA Wimauma Academy

18240 U.S. 301 S, Wimauma

(813) 672-5159

Year opened: 2000

Number of students: 189

Grades: Pre-K through fifth

Wish: To extend through eighth grade

RCMA Wimauma Academy nurtures migrant children 12/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility


    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia


    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber


    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant


    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]