Children from a farmworker background must confront and overcome significantly greater barriers than the average student in order to achieve their academic goals. As a result of the special challenges they face, the dropout rate for migrant students in California is over 60 percent according to one of the regional directors of the state’s Migrant Education Program. In an effort to promote higher education, improve educational access, share resources and build communal strength in the farmworker community, an educational event called “Breaking Barriers/Rompiendo Barreras” was held at Dixon High School on Saturday, May 21st.
This event was organized by the Children in the Fields Campaign’s community coalition in California, United for Progress/Unidos para el Progreso (UP). The group’s mission is to improve the quality of life of migrant and seasonal farmworker children and their families through action, consciousness, and community support. UP aims to increase educational support for this marginalized population while also building local leadership capacity within the population itself. By organizing an educational resource fair and community event in the same town where the campaign’s youth council is based, the coalition hoped to inspire these young people to pursue their dreams while also giving them the tools and knowledge to make those dreams a reality.
“Breaking Barriers” was open to middle school and high school students and their families and included workshops on financial aid, university requirements and parent and student rights. A resource fair featured representatives from University of California – Davis (UC Davis); Woodland Community College; the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP); the High School Equivalency Program (HEP); UC Davis Scholars Promoting Education, Awareness and Knowledge (SPEAK); the Migrant Education Program and UC Davis Ayudando Comunidades Trayendo Oportunidades y Servicios (ACTOS). Closing out the day’s festivities was a very powerful speaker panel of university students and parents that provided attendees with inspirational personal accounts of perseverance and academic accomplishment in the face of almost insurmountable odds. The more than 70 participants left the event with a stronger sense of the common struggle for educational equity in the farmworker community and with the knowledge that even the greatest barriers to higher education can be broken.
As Sacramento State University Professor Manuel Barajas noted in his keynote address at the event, Latinos make up a majority of California’s public school students but are not nearly as well represented in higher education. In order to change this situation, it will take a collective effort. It is impressive when individuals are able to overcome immense obstacles in order to achieve their academic goals and break out of the cycle of poverty; however, it is even more impressive when those individuals reach back and help the next person over that very same wall. By coming together and recognizing that each of us is a resource in and of ourselves, we can start to break down these barriers that are holding us all back and take another step forward as a society.