In the large agricultural fields of California work thousands of farmworkers and their families. Adults and children alike live in poor, crowded conditions and do backbreaking work in the hot sun, day after day after day.
Because their parents are migrant workers, many children attend a specific school for only a few weeks or months at most before their parents move to another field in another town or even another state. At Sherwood Elementary School in Salinas, California, in the heart of the state’s agricultural sector, 97 percent of students live in or near poverty. With their Latino backgrounds, more than three-fourths do not speak English well or at all, and many of their parents cannot read or write their own language, Spanish.
At the Sherwood school, according to a news report, many students “sleep beneath carports and live in such cramped quarters that their parents take them to the local truck stop to wash up before school.” A local high school teacher said many of his students see little of their parents, who spend most of their waking hours working in the fields. “They have little brothers and sisters to take care of, maybe cook for. Yet they’re supposed to turn in a 10-page paper by tomorrow? I mean, it’s unreal.”
These conditions have grievous consequences for California’s migrant farmworker children, almost half of whom fail to complete high school. The principal of the Sherwood Elementary School said the key strategy for her faculty and school was “understanding where the students come from but also having high expectations.”
The plight of farmworkers’ children is just one aspect of the difficulties facing Latino children around the country.