Laptops Help Keep Migrant Workers' Kids in School Immokalee, Fla., is the largest center for migrant farmworkers on the East Coast. Juan Medina, a former agricultural worker, is part of a town effort to help the children of migrant farmworkers in school. His new tool is free laptops.
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Laptops Help Keep Migrant Workers' Kids in School

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Laptops Help Keep Migrant Workers' Kids in School

Laptops Help Keep Migrant Workers' Kids in School

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The children of migrant farmer workers in the U.S. face special challenges when it comes to education. As their parents follow the harvest from state to state, many kids are forced to travel from school to school. Immokalee, Florida is the largest center for migrant workers in the Eastern United States. Educators there are trying some new tactics to make sure these children stay in school long enough to graduate.

NPR's Larry Abramson has the first of two stories.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Immokalee means my home in the Seminole language. But this city in south central Florida looks more like a weigh station than a true home. There are rows and rows of dilapidated trailers for the families who live here part of the year, then move on in the spring to follow the agricultural harvest. So what's it like trying to get an education here? Juan Medina knows.

Mr. JUAN MEDINA (Florida Department of Education): I'm a former migrant myself, so I - took me about four different high schools. By the time I go it would, you know, in terms of my lifespan, you know, migrated from Texas to Georgia to Florida and being in different high schools. So I can sympathize and I understand the migrant life because I'm one of them, okay?

ABRAMSON: For years, Medina worked the fields with his family, planting onions in West Texas, picking tomatoes in Homestead, Florida. But today, Medina works for the Florida Department of Education, trying to help kids deal with the challenges of migrant life.

(Soundbite of car starting)

ABRAMSON: As we drive around town in Medina's white van, this doesn't really look like a town of 20,000 people. There are few places to eat or hang out. But for Medina this is a real home, something he'd barely had growing up.

Mr. MEDINA: I didn't have a dad growing up, okay. I had a father, left us. Had a stepfather. He also left us - so, kind of a rough life.

ABRAMSON: Juan Medina's hair and mustache are still jet black, making him an awfully young looking grandfather. He is a family man, and his family includes just about everyone in Immokalee.

Mr. MEDINA: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

Mr. MEDINA: (Spanish spoken)

ABRAMSON: Medina pulls into PinHooker's Market to show me how some of his kids have done. Medina oversees a summer program at the local high school for kids trying to catch up. Programs like these have helped some students stay in school. One young man in a white Immokalee High tee shirt comes up to the car.


ABRAMSON: David, what's your last name?

Mr. AYALA: Ayala.

ABRAMSON: So you graduated?

Mr. AYALA: Yeah. I graduated back in 2004. Yeah.

ABRAMSON: Did Mr. Medina make sure you graduated?

Mr. AYALA: Yeah. Back in my sophomore year, I wanted to drop out, but he was -I guess he was talking to me, encouraged me not to drop out. So I went and go ahead and graduated after all.

ABRAMSON: In fact, David Ayala was on his way to the airport, headed to classes at the University of Dallas. The produce market is piled high with humongous watermelons and other produce. They're beautiful, but they are also part of the temptation that pulls many kids out of school.

Mr. MEDINA: (unintelligible) is one of my young high school kids, okay?

ABRAMSON: Oh, really?

Mr. MEDINA: He started his own business.

ABRAMSON: We pull up next to teenager with a big grin on his face. Francisco Para(ph) never finished high school.

Why did you quit?

Mr. FRANCISCO PARA (Farmer Worker): 'Cause work. Farming.

Mr. MEDINA: Farming. Yeah…

Mr. PARA: I wanted to work.

Mr. MEDINA: And help out his parents.

Mr. PARA: Yeah. I wanted to come up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ABRAMSON: Juan Medina doesn't win over every kid here.

Mr. MEDINA: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Child: Hola, Medina.

ABRAMSON: At out next stop, Medina introduces me to Florencia Ramos(ph) and her kids, third grader Fabian(ph) and his big brother Efrain(ph). Dad isn't home. He's up the road, as they say, picking watermelon in Georgia. And this year, the family couldn't come along.

Ms. FLORENCIA RAMOS: (Spanish spoken)

Mr. MEDINA: She has a year-old, and she still can't stand up.

ABRAMSON: The daughter needs physical therapy. But the fact that the family has to stay home could be good for Efrain, a rising fifth grader with a big, round face and a little tuft in the front that he carefully gelled into place into a cool little wave. Efrain's outgoing and smart, but his grades are all over the place.

Mr. EFRAIN RAMOS: A, B, C's and F's.

Mr. MEDINA: On what?

ABRAMSON: What did you get an F in?

Mr. RAMOS: Language arts, (unintelligible) studies.

ABRAMSON: Efrain is sitting in the shade. Resting on his knees is a tool that Juan Medina hopes will keep him in school. It's a little laptop known as an XO. His durable little machine was designed by the One Laptop Per Child program, primarily with third-world communities in mind. But thanks to a small pilot program in Immokalee, Efrain and 45 other kids have gotten their own laptops. It belongs to them - not the school, not to mom and dad. Efrain has already created a little interactive story on it.

Mr. RAMOS: I'm giving, like, sponges…

ABRAMSON: I'm sorry. And what is this?

Mr. RAMOS: A pineapple.

ABRAMSON: Oh, that's a pineapple. So the sponges are trying to get inside the door of the pineapple?

Mr. RAMOS: So then they try to measure it like a (unintelligible), if they can fit in it.

ABRAMSON: Okay, it's a little hard to explain. But basically, Efrain is already writing his own story. And he's learning something about computer programming. But is that what low-income kids in this community really need? Teachers try to answer that question in tomorrow's story. Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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