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

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Illustration by Camila Kerwin

TAMPA — 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.

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.