Education system alienates young migrant workers

Next time you’re at the grocery store, take a moment to think about the farmworkers whose labor bred the fresh produce in front of you. Chances are at least one of the 800,000 children of American’s migrant workers played a role.

According to the documentary film “The Harvest,” about half of these 800,000 children will never graduate from high school.

In this light, many would argue that the government’s role in providing academic and emotional support to migrant workers’ children is lacking. Standard services, such as after school tutoring and online classes, have come up short in providing a solution to these children’s educational struggles.

Now a graduate student at Duke University, Felicia Arriaga was born and raised in a family of migrant farm workers.

“There just aren’t enough migrant education point people to take care of what these children need,” Arriaga said.

According to PBS, the children are introduced to farm labor as early as the age of 12, provided they are accompanied by a guardian. And while most youth employers have a three-hour work shift limit on school days, the farms enforce no such restrictions.

Iselda of Pasco High School elaborates on the hardships of balancing farmwork and academics in an interview with Dr. Margaret Hill, the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools

“Working in the fields is the worst part about being a migrant student,” she said. “You have to work each day in the hot sun and then go to school for the rest of the day. You don’t even get to keep the money you make. It all goes to your parents.”

The money earned by children like Iselda is crucial in paying for basic housing and two square meals a day.

For these children, survival comes before school, and farmwork comes before homework. As a result, seasonal crop changes force them to migrate throughout the nation with their families, changing schools and homes all the while.

“You miss out on a lot of school,” Iselda said. “I lose some of my credits when I come to Washington.”

Many institutions point to more college scholarships and exclusive academic opportunities as the solution to the educational bind. Arriaga doesn’t think that this approach is the sole answer to the multifaceted issue.

“There’s a lot to think about when it comes to how we can impact different levels of their education system,” she said.

“How do we support students who don’t want to be separated from their parents? Maybe they don’t need to go to college.

“The question is, how do we create a realistic approach considering their needs and the traditional educational system?”

Perhaps it’s time that America, as a nation, takes more time to consider what migrant workers’ children really need to succeed academically.