Healthy But Absent Students Have Good Excuse - NBC Bay Area

Healthy But Absent Students Have Good Excuse

Labor camp closures jeopardize students' education



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    California runs 23 labor camps around the state, closing them for half the year during the off-season.

    The Buena Vista labor camp outside Watsonville sits vacant this time of year.

    It's one of 23 such facilities the state runs across California designed to give migrant farm workers a place to stay while they cultivate seasonal crops.

    The state closes these camps between November and May, when there's little field work to do. That's when migrant families have to move at least 50 miles from the camps in order to qualify for re-entry in May. 

    But that means parents have to pull their kids from school during those months.

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    "Their academic progress is hurt a lot and students are performing pretty low in the California standard tests, the exit exams." Faris Sabbah, the Director of the Migrant Program for the Pajaro Valley School District said. "The development of their English language is slowed down."

    About 200,000 students participate in the state's migrant program.

    At Calabasas Elementary in rural Watsonville, 52 students who lived in Buena Vista are gone. Six of them were in Barbara Raab's 4th grade math class.

    "We just don't know what they've been doing since they've been gone, and that's difficult," said Raab. "The camps are really important because it keeps the connection between the schools and the families closer."

    Sabbah said some students attend other schools in California, but others move to Mexico, making it difficult to track the kind of schooling they receive in their six-month absence. 

    "We try to provide them with academic packets, but nothing can replace being in the classroom with your teacher and being at your school," said Sabbah.

    At the behest of the non-profit group Human Agenda, two state lawmakers will introduce a bill next week to keep the camps open year-round. Richard Hobbs, of the Human Agenda, believes the farm workers' rents will pay for most, if not all of the costs of keeping the camps open.

    The Assembly appropriations committee will ultimately make that determination. 

    During crop season, families pay roughly $350 a month for a two-bedroom unit at Buena Vista, and the 22 other labor camps in California.

    But for now, the barracks at Buena Vista remain locked.

    "This is a very big problem," said Sabbah. "The interruption to their academic experience is very severe."