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Jodi Bell, named top migrant education administrator for Hendry County Schools

Local folks often know what terrific talent we have in Hendry County, but it’s especially rewarding when outsiders figure it out.

For instance, Jodi Bell is starting her seventh year as Director of Federal Programs for Hendry County School District.

She has been selected by the Florida Department of Education Florida Migrant Education Program as the Title I Migrant Program Administrator of the Year for 2012.

The honor reflects her “outstanding contribution to Hendry County’s migrant students.”

Jodi has been teaching in Hendry County since 1989, beginning as a Chapter I Migrant kindergarten teacher.

She has also been a classroom teacher and school administrator. Currently, she oversees Federal and Title Programs.

According to a statement from the Hendry County School District, the Migrant Education Program has been enhanced and improved during her tenure. She also gets personally involved in getting to know the students and families in order to better address their needs and concerns. One of Mrs. Bell’s co-workers best describes her as “…..a wonderful lady who wears many hats and is always willing to help everyone. What makes her a great Federal Programs Director?

Her dedication, understanding, and care for the Migrant farm workers and their families…going the extra mile to make a difference in a child’s educational journey. Always willing to be a team player and leading by example.”

Gordon Swaggerty, Deputy Superintendent stated, “I am not surprised that Mrs. Bell is the recipient of this award. Jodi is very deserving of the honor of being selected as Migrant Program Administrator of the Year for the State of Florida. She is an extremely talented and capable administrator with a great work ethic, but most of all she is truly an advocate for our students and is willing to do whatever she can to help them succeed.”

For her part, Jodi said she’s humbled by the “phenomenal staff” that drives the program.

There are nine advocates on staff - in the office, middle school and at UES, where they work with parents.

She said the folks on her staff advocate tirelessly, often 12-14 hours a day, for students. “They never say no to families,” Jodi said.

Migrant families have a lot of needs and these advocates work to hook them up with resources for whatever those needs may be. They also do needs assessments with parents and teachers.

Martha Hernandez in Clewiston and Marie Delgado in LaBelle are the office managers.

In addition to working with students and families, her office monitors 12-15 grants every year, she said. This year the office has a little more help, with Barbara Mundy as the new Administrator of Federal Programs.

Work often forces migrant families to come into the area late, which means the children start out behind the rest of the class. Staff members hold office and home visits, enroll students in school, make sure immunizations and physicals are complete, direct families to appropriate resources and generally make sure these kids are in school every possible day.

At the elementary level, children often need homework help. Many of these kids have no one at home that can help them so the office offers tutoring and after school programs.

For high schoolers, it’s all about credit accrual for graduation so after school help is available.

As for all parents, it’s important to know the stringent new Florida graduation guidelines for all ninth grade students beginning their high school careers, so Barbara Mundy works with the guidance counselors.

She also helps track freshmen at semester levels so they can make up credits as they go along.

Amy Plaza is the program’s high school liaison at LaBelle High School. She helps arrange college tours.
Adrian Soto At Clewiston High Schoolis the program liaison and helps get college scholarships for their students.

Jodi said she has been able to take students to Washington, DC. every year as juniors in the Close Up program during Spring Break as part of their government studies.

The program serves Hendry County migrant students ages 3-21. If they are 18-20 years old and haven’t yet graduated from high school, they are referred to the Adult School and GED prep programs.

Last school term there were 1,700 migrant students in Hendry County schools. About half that are currently enrolled as school begins, but more will be coming. It just depends on when families arrive from their jobs elsewhere.

For many migrant families, Hendry County acts as a base where students remain with family while others go on the road to work.

Jodi said she likes to work with people. She especially is pleased when students call and ask for help with college paperwork or scholarship paperwork.

“It means we’ve made a difference and that the students trust us,” she commented.

To demonstrate just how effective her program can be, Jodi said one of their graduates recently went to Brown University in New York, and another is at Notre Dame.

She said she “eavesdropped” on the student’s Brown University interview and was impressed with the her poise, articulate answers and how her vision for the future impacts others.

Jodi said she is most proud of is the number of kids helped to graduate through this program.

Often it takes a lot of work with other states and even other countries to come up with school records and staff uses state resources whenever possible, especially for high school students.

For Jodi it’s all about the team. “I guide,” she said, “staff does the work.”

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