Migrant Workers Take Advantage of High School Equivalency|Southern Education Desk
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A program aimed at educating migrant farm workers is taking hold in Northeast Louisiana. The High School Equivalency Program offers free classes to families who follow harvests. The early indicators are that the program is also opening doors to post-secondary education.
Migrant workers particpate in literature lesson
This is the brand new migrant worker grade twelve equivalency class.
Many of these adult learners are hoping that education will create opportunities for them.
Some see it as a means to trade farm work for a desk job.
A young woman, who we’ll identify only as “Juanita” because she’s in the country illegally, says the prospect of getting a high school equivalency is her number one priority.
“Absolutely," she says with a laugh, "yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do right now – start my education.”
Although it is a federally funded program, the classes provide a relatively safe haven for people without proper documentation.
Curriculum coordinator, Delene Rawls, explains.
“We don’t want to be under the radar about it because we don’t want it to seem as though we’re being subversive. And at the same time we do want to tread carefully because we really are about raising the literacy level for all folks involved: citizens and non-citizens. And we’ve got folks that come that, one person sitting here is naturalized and the person right next to them, we’re not sure. And we’re not required to ask, just like a public schoolteacher is not required to ask by law.”
Rawls says that, so far, no one from the Immigration Department has come around the classes looking for information.
Still, administrator Andres Enriquez says not everyone who’s eligible to enroll sees it as safe.
“It is true – it’s not easy for them to get the concept that this is a government program and we don’t ask for any documentation about whether they are here legally or illegally.”
A grant of just over two million dollars from the US Department of Education pays for the program.
The money is to be spread over five years and 12 districts, though only Ouachita and nearby Union parish currently offer classes.
About 70 students are now enrolled, but administrators are eying an expansion to the remaining parishes.
Andres Enriquez says the equivalency program is open to the farm workers’ family members.
“Let’s say for example, if I do the qualifying work, I mean let’s say that I worked 75 days in the past two years – my son, or my wife, they will qualify for the program.”
Enriquez says that recruiters speak with people at places such as churches and malls in hopes of bringing more people into the program.
The wide latitude for admission is designed to coincide with the lifestyle of migrant workers.
Delene Rawls says the ongoing duties of young field workers can make staying in school tough to do.
“There are times, when they reach a certain age: 16, 17, maybe even 15, that they are expected to work because that’s how the family is supported. And so at that point, even though education is still very important, feeding yourself and your siblings may be even more important. And so it may be that they are expected to not even enroll in school if they have to be in the field to accomplish what’s needed to keep the family afloat.”
For “Juanita,” the opportunity to earn a high school education is the key to bigger things.
“I’ve got plans to start my college classes next August. So I want to do that before August.”
She hopes to begin a career in business administration.
Moving from a migrant worker high school equivalency program to college may in fact be possible.
Delene Rawls says that 2010 is the first year data is available on students in Union Parish; she says 12 people completed the high school coursework.
And two of the graduates have since gone on to college.