Itinerant Life Weighs on Farmworkers’ Children
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
March 12, 2011
In the clattering energy of Room 21 at Sherwood Elementary here, Oscar Ramos, 37, glimpses life beneath the field dust. His students are the sons and daughters of the seasonal farmworkers who toil in the vast fields of the Salinas Valley, cutting spinach and broccoli and packing romaine lettuce from a wet conveyor belt: nearly 13 heads a minute, 768 heads an hour, 10 hours a day.
Despite the resilience of their young charges, educators at Sherwood face a catalog of need: 97 percent of students are near the poverty line, compared with 56 percent statewide. Seventy-seven percent have limited English, versus 32 percent throughout California. Only 6 percent of parents here attended college — the state average is 55 percent — and many are illiterate in their native language.
Even as Latino enrollments grow, the number of new teachers earning bilingual credentials has fallen in the last decade to 1,147 per year from 1,829, according to the California Teacher Commission. The shortage of bilingual teachers is hurting Latino academic achievement, said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Teachers like Mr. Ramos, “who have both language skills and the framework to respond to these kids’ cultural assets,” Professor Fuller said, are all too rare.
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