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Cultivando sus voces
1st graders develop their voices learning about farmworkers

By Marijke Conklin

Home > Archives > Volume 30 No.3 - Spring 2016

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First graders learn about the lives of farmworkers up close at Brentwood Berry Farm in California.

Photo:Marijke Conklin

“¡Viva la huelga! ¡Viva la huelga! ¡Viva la causa de verdad!”

This was the energetic, ascending chant of my 24 1st graders last spring, as they joyfully presented the United Farm Workers (UFW) protest song “Niños campesinos” to their families at our end-of-year expo night. We had just finished our study of farmworkers, and these 6-year-olds captured the passion of a protest movement that galvanized millions to march against injustice in California in the 1960s.

My students, part of a Spanish K–8 dual immersion program at Melrose Leadership Academy, a public school in Oakland, California, learn in Spanish for five hours per day and in English for the remaining hour. They come from diverse racial and economic backgrounds.

Many of our students come to school with a strong sense of fairness and an interest in working together for a goal. By focusing on California farmworkers, I wanted to offer my students a platform in the classroom to share and develop those values. The whole study was in Spanish. Half of my students are Spanish language learners. That meant teaching vocabulary and concepts through songs, stories, trips, and discussions.

“How Do You Grow Fruit?”

In March, I gathered students together on the rug to kick off our study. “We’ve learned about wheat and fruit in California,” I began, making a bridge to our previous studies. “Starting today, we’ll learn about the people who grow the fruit we eat. We’ll take a trip to a farm where you’ll get to find out about some of these farmers.”

The room brimmed with excitement, and right away I got a wave of questions: “Where are we going? How far away is it? How will we get there?”

I told them we’d be riding a bus for an hour to Brentwood Berry Farm. “A family owns and works on the farm. Today, you’ll be working together in groups to come up with questions to ask them. Remember, questions can help us get more information about what we are learning. How do questions start again?”

Students called out “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “Why?” “How?” I charted their answers.

“Now let’s use those words to start a question for the people who grow our fruit.”

Coszcatl raised her hand. “Do they speak English or Spanish?”

Adam’s hand went up next. “What is your favorite color?”

“All questions can give us interesting information,” I said, wanting to validate Adam but also guide the class toward content-specific questions. “But we’re especially looking for information about what it’s like to be a farmworker.”

Pablo asked, “What kind of fruit do you grow?”

The students then gathered in their groups. Loretta, the notetaker, got her group started by asking, “OK, what are our questions?”

Daniel posed the first one: “What do you like about working on a farm?”

Ethan: “How do you grow fruit?”

Sofia: “What don’t you like about working on a farm?”

Loretta: “What different fruit do you grow?”

Daniel: “Where are you from?”

I signaled the end of the group work with my rain stick. Back on the rug, students shared with each other and decided which questions to keep. I charted their questions and asked them to consider which ones would help us get the most information.

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