Class Of COVID-19: Finding The Lost Children Of Migrant Farmworkers

Feb 22, 2021

E.V. was 17, just about a week away from finishing her senior year in New Orleans and becoming the first in her family to graduate high school, when her parents split up and she had to move with her mother and three younger siblings to Tampa.

She discovered that her credits didn’t match Florida’s graduation requirements. Soon, she began working in the fields, picking eggplants alongside her mother.

“It was extremely difficult. Sometimes they yell at you, if you do things that are not right, if you’re not fast enough,” recalled E.V., whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a baby. Florida Public Media is not using her full name, because she is undocumented.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic. Daycares closed, and E.V. stayed home to care for her 4-year-old sister, while struggling to study for an exam that would grant her a diploma.

A tutor from the Hillsborough County Public Schools migrant education program learned of E.V.’s struggles and helped her study and pass the test she needed to finish high school.

“I'm so completely grateful for her, because if it wasn't for her, I probably wouldn't even have anything,” E.V. said.

Her tutor was part of a federally funded program that has existed since 1966 to help educate the children of those who pick the fruits and vegetables that land on our dinner tables. It’s called the Migrant Education Program.

Across the country, these teachers, tutors and school advocates work to help the children of farmworkers, long considered among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the U.S. They move from place to place, often live in poverty and drop out at high rates as teenagers.

The coronavirus pandemic amplified all the challenges they already faced. Economic hardships forced many teenagers, like E.V., out of school and into the fields.

Find the rest of the story here.

'Class of COVID-19: An Education Crisis For Florida's Vulnerable Students' Jax PBS Special

WJCT-TV 7.1 will air the one-hour TV special on "The Class of COVID-19" on Monday, February 22 at 9 p.m. on antenna TV channel 7.1, Comcast channels 8 and 440. It will also be streamed on Passport and in the WJCT app. The special will encore on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 5:00 p.m. 

WJCT.org is also running a portion of many of the stories.

WLRN education reporter Jessica Bakeman contributed reporting for this story.

This story is part of the Florida Public Media series, "Class of COVID-19: An Education Crisis For Florida's Vulnerable Students." Find the whole project — and sign up for our limited-run newsletter — at classofcovid.org.

“Class of COVID-19” is being produced through a partnership with the following public media organizations: WLRN (Miami), WGCU (Fort Myers), WFSU (Tallahassee), WUSF (Tampa), WMFE (Orlando) , WUCF (Orlando), WPBT/WXEL (Miami/Boynton Beach), WJCT (Jacksonville), WEDU (Tampa) and WUWF (Pensacola).

The project is supported in part by the Hammer Family Charitable Foundation and the Education Writers Association.