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Migrant students learn science in the farm fields and the classroom

At the core of Washington’s agriculture industry is science – you can’t grow a potato or cherry without knowing about soil chemistry, hydrology and photosynthesis. But the people who get their hands dirty in the business of growing and picking don’t always think of it that way.

In fact, the children of that workforce tend to struggle in math and science. Just one in four children of migrant workers meets state science standards in eighth grade, far below the population as a whole. The gap in math is nearly as wide.

Now, state education officials have organized a new learning camp for migrant students aimed at connecting work in the fields with work in the classroom.

Science in the mix

Almost 50 students from across the state recently attended the first of these week-long camps, based at IslandWood, a learning center and preserve on Bainbridge Island. They dug into the science of what their parents (and often the students themselves) do for a living, growing and harvesting plants.

They also tracked radio-collared owls, counted tree rings and studied tide pools. Instructors say they’re trying to reflect nature back to these students – who after all, are growing up around the fields, forests and fisheries of Washington State – in a new light.

In the process they hope to dignify the farm work by putting it in a scientific context, and to recast nature as more than just a livelihood, but also as a classroom where children are invited to dig a little deeper.

Gabriel Spitzer is the Host and Senior Producer of Sound Effect, KNKX's "weekly tour of ideas inspired by the place we live." Gabriel was previously KNKX's Science and Health Reporter. He joined KNKX after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.